The GAO report claims that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not agreed on key roles and responsibilities have not identified a common goal, established joint strategies, or agreed on roles and responsibilities.
“As a result, the agencies have not taken advantage of opportunities to share information that could benefit each agency’s efforts to detect and prevent seafood fraud, nor have they identified similar and sometimes overlapping activities that could be better coordinated to use limited resources more efficiently,” states the report.
The GAO said that as a result consumers have less assurance that the seafood they purchase is correctly labelled.
And the office outlines some of the scams currently employed in the sector such as seafood being shipped through an intermediate country to avoid customs duties, or processors over-breading prepared seafood products, using water-retaining chemicals, and also over-glazing with an ice covering to artificially increase the weight of products without indicating the true net weight of the seafood on the label.
Moreover, the GAO maintains that another example of fraud such as fish being mislabelled as a different species for financial gain can also result in food safety problems, with the substituted fish sometimes causing illnesses due to the presence of a potentially deadly toxin.
An FDA seafood fraud-related activity is the maintenance of a publicly available list of seafood names that is intended to help the industry correctly label products: “However, until 2009, FDA had not fully updated the list it created in 1993 to reflect over 400 name changes,” continued the report.
And the GAO document concluded that the FDA’s guidance to help seafood processors comply with its seafood oversight programme does not reflect the seafood labelling requirement of the Food Allergen Labelling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 to include the species of fish or shellfish on product labels.
Moreover, said the report, the FDA is also limited in its ability to detect seafood fraud because its primary oversight programme for seafood processors — Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) — does not require them to identify and mitigate economic fraud risks that can occur during processing.
In commenting on a draft of the report, the FDA and the other enforcement agencies generally agreed with its recommendations for reducing seafood fraud through revision of HACCP regulations, enhanced interagency information sharing, a reduction in activity overlaps, and the development of a federal agency-wide library of seafood species standards.