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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Seafood Safety: Background and Issues

Harold F. Upton
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Although seafood consumption can contribute to a healthy diet, some fish and shellfish can cause foodborne illnesses or contain environmental contaminants. Are current food safety programs sufficiently protecting consumers, and if not, what changes should be considered? A complicating factor is that most of the seafood consumed in the United States is from imports.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) within the Department of Health and Human Services plays the lead role in ensuring the safety of both domestic and imported fish and shellfish, but other agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the Department of Commerce and the Food Safety and Inspection Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also have notable responsibilities.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused state and federal officials to close extensive areas of the Gulf of Mexico to commercial and recreational fishing. As areas have been reopened, concerns have been voiced by some fishermen and consumers regarding the safety of seafood from the Gulf. The FDA and NMFS have been testing areas before reopening them to fishing and no contaminated samples have been found in these areas.

In the 111
th Congress, the food safety bills specific to seafood include S. 92 and S. 2934, aimed at violative seafood imports, and H.R. 1370, authorizing $15 million annually to strengthen coordination between agencies on seafood safety and quality, particularly regarding imports. On July 30, 2009, the House approved H.R. 2749, a revised version of H.R. 759. H.R. 2749 takes a comprehensive approach to food safety, including seafood. On December 18, 2009, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee reported S. 510, another comprehensive approach to food safety. On November 17, 2010, the Senate voted to begin debate on S. 510, and on the following day a substitute amendment (S.Amdt. 4715) was introduced. The Senate amendment includes three provisions specific to seafood that focus on (1) establishing interagency agreements to improve seafood safety; (2) assessing changes to regulations for postharvest processing of raw oysters; and (3) sending inspectors to assess production of seafood imported into the United States. The Senate majority leader has filed a cloture motion on the bill that is scheduled for consideration on November 29, 2010.

Date of Report: November 24, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RS22797
Price: $29.95

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