On this morning’s edition of the Today Show, reporter Jeff Rossen and producer Robert Powell appear to have willfully ignored evidence that imported seafood is safe.
Ignoring the Facts
The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) provided Rossen and Powell the following resources, weeks before the story aired, in order to help ensure the Today Show had accuracy, balance, objectivity and proper sourcing;
- An analysis of Centers for Disease Control statistics that illustrates fish—be it domestic or imported—is (a) among the safest foods Americans eat and (b) not included in any of the major food recalls of the last decade;
- Independent writings from a former USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety in which he clearly states that arguments about the healthfulness of imported seafood stem from “trade issues…not [from] a public health issue”;
- A thorough and accurate description of the Food and Drug Administration’s Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulatory system;
- Contact information for a leading independent authority on HACCP from Cornell University, who was willing to be interviewed for the story to explain the screening and safety protocols;
Additionally Rossen and Powell;
- Received letters written by two independent domestic seafood organizations that stated, “NFI’s commitment to food safety based on ground truth science is unmatched in the seafood industry” and that “NFI’s commitment to seafood safety includes domestic products and imported products.” This runs totally counter to the impression left by Rossen and Powell’s piece.
- Insisted they read and reviewed a six page letter (complete with 23 attachments) that explained the genesis of this faux food safety scare being pushed by domestic catfish producers whose goal is to erect barriers to trade through regulation.
- Have based their reporting on an advocacy video produced and promoted by a special interest lobby working to exclude imports from the U.S. market.
Despite being in possession of all of these documents and having access to an independent expert, it is our contention that the reporter and producer willfully neglected the facts in favor of a more sensational and less accurate story, pushed by domestic catfish producers.
The real story behind this story is and has always been domestic catfish farmers trying to keep imported seafood (primarily from Vietnam) out of the market by claiming there is a food safety problem with the competition. Rossen and Powell were educated about the history and origin of this campaign that they apparently became an unwitting promotional vehicle for. They were even provided clips from independent sources that made this point;
- In July 2009 The Wall Street Journal wrote that “there have been no reported cases of Vietnamese fish sickening American consumers… This is an attempt at protectionism-by-regulation from domestic catfish producers and their supporters in Congress.”
- In May 2009 The Journal noted that, “this is protectionism at its worst,” and that, “there are no serious concerns about the safety of Vietnamese fish imports.”
Rossen and Powell were made aware of the connection to the anti-competition, special interest agenda of the domestic catfish lobby. Despite being presented with ample evidence documenting the safety of imported seafood, we believe the story they produced demonstrated a reckless disregard for the truth.
Rossen only briefly mentions that FDA targets its inspections and attention towards companies or countries that have had problems in the past. Instead he narrowly focuses on FDA’s 2% border inspections. Doesn’t it make sense to look for misbehaving kids in high school detention? This is what FDA’s system does.