News / USA

    Oil Spill Sparks Concerns About Imported Seafood

    Crisis might lead to more imports with limited oversight

    The oil spill in the Gulf could lead to more seafood imports.
    The oil spill in the Gulf could lead to more seafood imports.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is looming over the seafood industry.

    Prices are going up and the crisis could lead to  more imported seafood in the coming months. But some people are questioning the safety of imported seafood.

    Lasting impact

    Tom Robey runs around like a mad man. Or maybe a mad scientist.

    His laboratory is the kitchen. Robey is executive chef at Veranda on Highland in Birmingham, Alabama. His specialty is regional seafood: Louisiana crawfish, Florida crab, Alabama shrimp.

    When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded last month spewing oil into the Gulf, Robey shelled out nearly $3,000 dollars to stockpile 600 pounds of shrimp.

    And it's a good thing, because officials closed some of the fishing grounds. It's not clear how extensive and long-term the damage to Gulf seafood will be.

    Shrimp are among the Gulf of Mexico's best-known seafood. But 90 percent of the shrimp in the United States is imported.
    Shrimp are among the Gulf of Mexico's best-known seafood. But 90 percent of the shrimp in the United States is imported.

    Early tests don't show substantial chemical contamination, but monitoring might have to continue for decades. Meanwhile, industry officials expect a shortage of domestic seafood. And other countries are ready to fill the gap.

    Imported seafood

    We already import about 80 percent of our seafood. But the oil spill is expected to drive that number higher.

    Chef Robey says he'll take seafood off the menu before he serves imports.

    "I'm nervous about, like, how that seafood was handled, how it was fed, if it was farmed raised," says Robey. "I mean every day there's some kind of recall one or another coming from China."

    He may have reason to be nervous.

    "I think it's really a 'buyer beware' issue," says Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Washington DC-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.

    Safety concerns

    DeWaal says when state regulators tested imported shrimp they found it was contaminated with antibiotics and other chemical residues that are illegal in the U.S. According to Dewaal, there is evidence some imported shrimp are grown in contaminated ponds.

    Supporters of the industry say - while some tests have caught problems - that doesn't mean all imported seafood is bad.

    Norbert Sporns say there's no need to worry. He's CEO of a Seattle-based company called HQ Sustainable Maritime Industries.

    They farm tilapia - mostly in China. Sporns says the U.S. has an international certification process that is rigorous and will catch potential problems.

    "Prior to export, we are subject to a series of tests," says Sporns. "Once a product lands in the United States, there are other tests that can be administered by the FDA on a spot-check basis. So there are multiple levels of security in place."

    Limited oversight

    But the FDA only inspects about 2 percent of imports.

    Ken Albala is a food historian at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He teaches about food policy and environmental issues. He says, while the cattle industry has been tightly regulated, that's not the case with the fishing industry.

    "And when you're talking about a several thousand pound cow versus a bass, let alone a shrimp," says Albala. "I don't see how they could ever begin to inspect consistently what's coming in from abroad. Definitely not."

    Right now, Congress is considering a bill that would give the FDA increased authority over imported seafood. So far, the bill has passed the house and is waiting to be picked up in the Senate.

    So consumers who want to eat shrimp are faced with two choices: trust that random spot checks find any problems with seafood imports or pay more for domestic, wild harvested shrimp.

    And that price could go even higher if the oil spill in the gulf contaminates a good part of the domestic supply.


    (Support for The Environment Report comes from the Park Foundation, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, and the Great Lakes Fishery Trust. You can find more stories - and post your comments - at environment-report.org.)

    You May Like

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora