US move against Chinese fish is tip of iceberg
By Pat Reber Jun 29, 2007, 8:32 GMT
Washington - In the latest problem with food products from China, US regulators Thursday increased scrutiny on imports of some farm-raised seafood because of possible contamination from unsafe drugs.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it would detain all farm-raised shrimp, catfish, basa (a type of catfish), dace and eel from China until they are proven free of residues from drugs not approved in the United States for farm-raised fish.
'We will accept entries of these products from Chinese firms that demonstrate compliance with our requirements and safety standards,' said David Acheson, FDA assistant commissioner for food protection.
In recent months, US authorities have found impurities and toxins in pet food and toothpaste traced to Chinese-produced ingredients. Dozens of pet deaths were blamed on the contaminated pet food.
About 18 per cent of the 2.3 billion kilogrammes of seafood imported into the US in 2005 came from China, according to the most recent data from the US Commerce Department, cited by the Bloomberg financial news agency.
Although no human illness had been reported from the tainted fish, repeated sampling from October 2006 to May 2007 found traces of antimicrobials and antibiotics including fluoroquinolone, which Chinese officials 'have acknowledged' are used in Chinese aquaculture, the FDA said.
Cipro, widely used for such serious infections as anthrax in humans, is an example of an antibiotic that contains fluroquinolone.
'The use of fluoroquinolones in food animals may increase antibiotic resistance to this critically important class of antibiotics,' the statement said.
The FDA said it would not seek a recall of the fish, as the levels of the drug residues were very low, 'most often at or near the minimum level of detection.'
Other contaminants were identified as Nitrofuran and malachite green, which are banned by Chinese authorities in seafood production, and gentian violet.
Earlier this month, China said it has closed 180 domestic food manufacturers over the last six months after uncovering more than 23,000 safety violations including the use of chemicals, dyes and other illegal ingredients.
'They're certainly working hard to address food safety issues in China,' Acheson told reporters. 'However, our goal is to protect the American consumer, and we believe that this is the appropriate action to date to do that.'
In March, the FDA traced a number of pet deaths to food that contained Chinese wheat gluten tainted with melamine, a fertilizer ingredient.
Last month, the FDA urged consumers against using tubes of toothpaste labelled as made in China that could contain a poisonous chemical called diethylene glycol (DEG).
The tip came from Panama, which found DEG in May in toothpaste imported from China. Panama has good reason to be watchful about imports from China after last year's deaths of at least 100 people who took a medicine that contained DEG, which was passed off as its more expensive chemical cousin glycerin traced to China.
The FDA, which has banned the toothpaste imports, lists seven Chinese manufacturers of DEG-tainted toothpaste under dozens of brand names.
The FDA said it suspected the brand names would be found in US discount stores, but The New York Times reported Thursday that 900,000 tubes containing the poisoned toothpaste had turned up in hospitals for the mentally ill, prisons, juvenile detention centres and some hospitals across Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.
The syrupy DEG often passes through various middlemen in other countries, where it is combined into medicines or toothpastes, The New York Times reported.
'Where there is a loophole in the system, a frailty in the system, it's the ability of an unscrupulous distributor to take industrial or technical material and pass it off as pharmaceutical grade,' Kevin McGlue, a board member of the International Pharmaceutical Excipients Council, was quoted recently as saying by the Times.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur