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Highlights

In 2007, Americans consumed almost 5 billion pounds of seafood. Most seafood buyers, at many levels--importers, distributors, supermarkets, restaurants, and individual consumers--assume that the seafood they buy is what the seller claims it is. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes seafood products are mislabeled for financial gain--an activity called seafood fraud. Three federal agencies play key roles in detecting and preventing seafood fraud: the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Department of Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration (FDA). GAO was asked to determine (1) the actions key federal agencies take to help detect and prevent seafood fraud and (2) the extent to which these key federal agencies collaborate with each other to help detect and prevent seafood fraud. GAO reviewed data and documents from each agency on actions to detect and prevent seafood fraud, and interviewed agency officials and other key stakeholders.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Food and Drug Administration 1. To help reduce the prevalence of seafood fraud and improve FDA's actions to detect and prevent seafood fraud, the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should propose amendments to FDA's seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations to include requirements that covered facilities include control points that can be used to identify and mitigate economic fraud risks.
Closed - Not Implemented
FDA determined that a proposal to amend the seafood HACCP regulations was not warranted. According to FDA, the agency has provided information on how illicit substitution of one speicies for another can impact the identification of species-related hazards. In addition, FDA added "The Effect of Misbranding through Species Subsitution on the Identification of Potential Species-Related Hazards", to its HACCP hazards guidance for fish and fishery products. We continue to believe that effective measures against seafood fraud have to be built into the processing of seafood.
Food and Drug Administration 2. To help reduce the prevalence of seafood fraud and improve FDA's actions to detect and prevent seafood fraud, the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should provide the opportunity for stakeholder comments prior to formalizing any changes to the Seafood List not required by law or regulation and routinely update the public version of the list whenever FDA makes any changes.
Closed - Implemented
FDA has updated its Seafood list, developed and published on its publicliy available website the guidance and criteria for making changes to its list, and has stated that it plans to allow public comments on its guidance and on changes to the list.
Food and Drug Administration 3. To help reduce the prevalence of seafood fraud and improve FDA's actions to detect and prevent seafood fraud, the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should update the Fish and Fisheries Products Hazards and Controls Guidance to reflect the seafood labeling requirements of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.
Closed - Implemented
In April 2011, FDA issued its revised Fish and Fisheries Products Hazards and Controls Guidance to reflect the labeling requriements of the Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act of 2004.
Office of the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere 4. To maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of each agency's efforts to detect and prevent seafood fraud and to increase interagency collaboration, improve information sharing, and reduce overlaps, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should develop goals, strategies, and mechanisms to share information and resources related to seafood fraud detection and prevention across agency boundaries.
Closed - Not Implemented
CBP, FDA, and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have begun to meet to discuss methods to better collaborate but the agencies have not provided written documentation of systematic collaboration. Without such information to show that the agencies have developed goals, strategies and mechanisms to share information and resources related to seafood fraud detection and prevention, the agencies have not established a formal process to collaborate on this issue.
Food and Drug Administration 5. To maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of each agency's efforts to detect and prevent seafood fraud and to increase interagency collaboration, improve information sharing, and reduce overlaps, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should develop goals, strategies, and mechanisms to share information and resources related to seafood fraud detection and prevention across agency boundaries.
Closed - Not Implemented
CBP, FDA, and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have begun to meet to discuss methods to better collaborate but the agencies have not provided written documentation of systematic collaboration. Without such information to show that the agencies have developed goals, strategies and mechanisms to share information and resources related to seafood fraud detection and prevention, the agencies have not established a formal process to collaborate on this issue.
Bureau of Customs and Border Protection 6. To maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of each agency's efforts to detect and prevent seafood fraud and to increase interagency collaboration, improve information sharing, and reduce overlaps, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should create a federal agencywide library of seafood species standards.
Closed - Implemented
In 2009 FDA signed an interagency agreement with the Smithsonian Institute to curate a DNS species library. According to CBP, all three agencies have decided to use the Smithsonian Institute's FISHBOL as the repository for the fish standards all three laboratories intend to use. According to FDA, all three agencies have met to coordinate the use of the library and two of the agencies sent Representatives to receive training on a protocol for validation of DNA barcoding. The NMFS has collected additional species that will be provided to the Smithsonian to include in the library. FDA, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and CBP have participated in joint training on DNA barcoding procedures and the three parties have agreed to move forward with species identification using mutually agreeable methods and the joint development and use of the species library that will be held by the Smithsonian NMNH.
Food and Drug Administration 7. To maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of each agency's efforts to detect and prevent seafood fraud and to increase interagency collaboration, improve information sharing, and reduce overlaps, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should create a federal agencywide library of seafood species standards.
Closed - Implemented
In 2009 FDA signed an interagency agreement with the Smithsonian Institute to curate a DNS species library. According to CBP, all three agencies have decided to use the Smithsonian Institute's FISHBOL as the repository for the fish standards all three laboratories intend to use. According to FDA, all three agencies have met to coordinate the use of the library and two of the agencies sent Representatives to receive training on a protocol for validation of DNA barcoding. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has collected additional species that will be provided to the Smithsonian to include in the library. FDA, NMFS and CBP have participated in joint training on DNA barcoding procedures and the three parties have agreed to move forward with species identification using mutually agreeable methods and the joint development and use of the species library that will be held by the Smithsonian NMNH.
Bureau of Customs and Border Protection 8. To maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of each agency's efforts to detect and prevent seafood fraud and to increase interagency collaboration, improve information sharing, and reduce overlaps, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should develop goals, strategies, and mechanisms to share information and resources related to seafood fraud detection and prevention across agency boundaries.
Closed - Not Implemented
CBP, FDA, and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have begun to meet to discuss methods to better collaborate but the agencies have not provided written documentation of systematic collaboration. Without such information to show that the agencies have developed goals, strategies and mechanisms to share information and resources related to seafood fraud detection and prevention, the agencies have not established a formal process to collaborate on this issue.
Office of the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere 9. To maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of each agency's efforts to detect and prevent seafood fraud and to increase interagency collaboration, improve information sharing, and reduce overlaps, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should create a federal agencywide library of seafood species standards.
Closed - Implemented
In 2009 FDA signed an interagency agreement with the Smithsonian Institute to curate a DNS species library. According to CBP, all three agencies have decided to use the Smithsonian Institute's FISHBOL as the repository for the fish standards all three laboratories intend to use. According to FDA, all three agencies have met to coordinate the use of the library and two of the agencies sent Representatives to receive training on a protocol for validation of DNA barcoding. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has collected additional species that will be provided to the Smithsonian to include in the library. FDA, NMFS and CBP have participated in joint training on DNA barcoding procedures and the three parties have agreed to move forward with species identification using mutually agreeable methods and the joint development and use of the species library that will be held by the Smithsonian NMNH.

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