Seafood Safety

In response to your article on seafood safety (Feb. 27) and your editorial "Awash in a Sea of Bad Fish" (March 6), we feel there are some important inaccuracies that consumers deserve to know.

The FDA, in an official statement, labeled The Times article as "inaccurate, misleading and misrepresents preliminary results of the agency's survey. . . ." The impression from the article is that the consumer has a 20% chance of eating contaminated seafood, and that is simply not correct; 74% of the samples taken by the FDA for analysis were from foreign shipments taken at the point of importation. Additionally, the FDA targets products whose historical record shows the highest potential for being violative. This method produces a non-random sample, and one that would yield a higher than expected percentage of violation.

The main point is that violative import products are denied entry into the U.S. Violative domestic samples are removed from the market immediately. Therefore the 20% of violative samples referred to in your article either were refused entry into the country or were found prior to their reaching the consumer and removed from the system. We therefore recognize that the FDA's improved targeted sampling program is actually working very effectively in keeping possibly violative products from reaching consumers.

Concern for safe foods is normal, healthy and important. Reports of illnesses from seafood are not keeping pace with the increase in seafood consumption, an excellent indicator of the healthy nature of seafood. The most recent statistics from the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control place illness associated with consumption of cooked fin fish at 1 in 5 million servings. The National Academy of Sciences, in a 10-year study of reports of illnesses from muscle foods, found that fin fish was clearly the safest of the protein groups as judged by the number of incidents of food-borne illnesses.

The consumer seafood supply industry is committed to providing the safest possible supply of the world's healthiest food. The seafood industry is not hiding from anything and we have in fact publicly supported a federal mandatory inspection program for over three years. In order to satisfy and restore consumer confidence, Congress must act immediately to produce a mandatory inspection program that will finally tell the truth about the wholesomeness of our nation's seafood resources.

J. DAVID PTAK, President

California Fisheries & Seafood Institute


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