KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 4 ― The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has banned some Malaysian shrimp exporters after finding traces of illegal antibiotics in their shipments, but the tainted cultured shrimps are still being sold in local wet markets.
English daily The Star reported that since 2019, many Malaysian shrimp exporters have been placed on the USFDA Red List after 18 shrimp shipment samples from 11 exporters were found to contain traces of chloramphenicol in 2018.
The US agency had also placed another 28 shrimp exporters on the red list between 2009 and 2018 after finding that 56 of their shipments contained samples of nitrofurans. Penang has registered with the highest number of banned exporters, with 27 of them based there.
Experts said that the residues from the two antibiotics are carcinogenic. Chloramphenicol can lead to a rare but serious side of bone marrow failure where it can no longer produce red and white blood cells and platelets.
However, it seemed that the cultured shrimps ― tiger prawns and Pacific whiteleg shrimps ― can still be found in wet markets in the country. At the moment, the Fisheries Department is conducting laboratory tests at local shrimp farms to prevent the sale of the tainted produce.
Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Deputy Minister Sim Tze Tsin reportedly said that he believed the tainted shrimps came from other countries and suspects that Malaysia is merely a transit hub.
“Based on past cases, we believe that they imported frozen shrimps from other countries and re-export them to the US. We have tightened our monitoring since then,” he reportedly said.
Furthermore, Sim explained that local shrimp farms intending to export to the US market must register with the Fisheries Department where its Biosecurity Division will conduct regular testing for antibiotics, heavy metals, hormones and dyes.
If samples are found with the banned materials, the farms will be sanctioned and their harvest will not be exported.
The Fisheries Department had also issued Certificate of Origin (COO) since 2019 and it will not issue any COO if traces of illegal antibiotics are found in the shrimps.
A worker at a large shrimp farm in Kedah also told the paper on condition of anonymity that the antibiotics problem began around a decade ago.
It seemed that a strange disease, called the Early Mortality Syndrome, kills off the shrimps in their ponds after just 30 days. Farmed shrimps need between 70 to 100 days before they can be harvested.
He reportedly said that farmers had tried many types of medication for their livestock but was forced to resort to nitrofurans and chloramphenicol when all other methods had failed.
Touching on the fate of the local shrimp exporters in America, USFDA media officer Peter Cassell had reportedly explained that his agency will inform companies the moment their product has been categorised as detention without physical examination (DWPE).
Under USFDA import guidelines, a DPWE alert will allow field officers to summarily detain such shipments.
Companies that have their wares detained have 10 to 20 days to show laboratory proof that they have not violated FDA laws. If they failed, the shipments must be destroyed or exported out of the US in 90 days from the date of detention.