October 27, 2008


Australia warns of toxins from imported fish products


An advocate group in Australia calls for intensive testing for imported fish products as only five percent of fish arriving from abroad are only tested.


Consumer rights group Choice says Australia should have a national regulator like the US' Food and Drug Administration to test all imported fish products, particularly from China, for banned chemicals.


The group says the US repeatedly finds banned chemicals, including fungicides and antibiotics, in imported fish.


Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn said 95 percent of imports are not routinely tested nor is domestically produced seafood, adding "we feel Australians deserve better."


Large fish such as swordfish, marlin and shark can contain mercury levels that can harm small children and pregnant women, not to mention being harvested unsustainably, the report found.


Being told by government and health authorities to eat more fish because of its health benefits, Zinn said consumers are getting mixed messages as two thirds of fish species despite health risks.


Apart from health concerns, overfishing is also an issue as two-thirds of fish species have been excessively caught by Australian fisheries, a report by the Australian Government Bureau of Rural Sciences found.


Choice has urged for a new revision of the Australian Dietary Guidelines to consider the impact of fishing practices, saying labels should cohesively detail the seafood's whereabouts and how it was caught.


To help consumers make better choices about buying fish, the Australian Marine Conservation Society has released a guide with a colour-coded table. Fish marked red means "say no", orange is "think twice" and green is "better choice".


Greg Doyle, from Pier at Rose Bay, said his restaurant used only Australian fish because he believed imported seafood was usually "substandard".


The chef of Balmoral's Bottom Of The Harbour Seafoods Cafe and Bistro, James Fairall, said 90 per cent of the fish he used were Australian as he is wary of seafood coming from China.


Doyle said if testing becomes mandatory, this would stop sending fish to Australia that the world rejects.


National Aquaculture Council chief executive Simon Bennison questioned Choice's right to speak out on the industry.


Benniso saiod the group should be "awfully careful because Australian fisheries are well managed."


Food Standards Australia New Zealand spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann said a number of imported seafood on the high-risk list would be tested more regularly.


The agency found 16 per cent of domestically farmed fish and 17 per cent of imported farmed fish contain the fungicide malachite green, a chemical used in a farming to prevent disease and parasites.