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Calls for tougher rules on seafood


Food safety fears over beef are now settled in the psyche of consumers across the world - stretching from Japan, over Europe and into the US. But what about seafood? How many of us have been ill from a less than healthy oyster or mussel? In the US this week a consumer group has petitioned the government to demand stronger seafood-safety rules to prevent food poisoning.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has asked the Food and Drug Administration to require fish and shellfish to be tested for the most common causes of food-related illnesses.

According to the CSPI, consumers keep getting seriously ill from contaminated seafood because the FDA seafood-safety programme fails to test fish and shellfish for potentially deadly hazards.

"Mandatory government testing is needed to make a weak seafood-safety programme stronger," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. "Seafood is a major cause of food poisoning, sickening more than 100,000 and causing dozens of preventable deaths each year."

In a recent report, Outbreak Alert! 2002, the CSPI claims that seafood is the leading cause of reported foodborne-illness outbreaks where both the food and the hazard are identified. Scombrotoxin, a toxin that can develop in fresh tuna, mahi mahi, and other finfish that are not kept cold, and ciguatera, a toxin occurring in tropical reef fish like grouper and red snapper, are among the hazards that the FDA should test for, stressed the consumer group.

CSPI's petition also calls for testing for Listeria monocytogenes, methylmercury, and coliforms, as well as the Vibrio bacteria, which can contaminate raw oysters and other shellfish.

A recent FDA evaluation found that only 57 per cent of the seafood industry currently has a hazards control programme in place. The CSPI stated that last year, congressional investigators criticised the FDA's weak seafood-oversight programme and recommended that the agency gather objective, measurable performance data. The FDA has never implemented that advice, claims the CSPI.

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