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Meal Planner

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Today Show Reporter Jeff Rossen and Producer Robert Powell Ignore Facts In Story On Safety of Imported Seafood

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.

The Facts

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.

I had previously sensed that the Catfish Farmers of America had run themseleves into a hole with the national media, based on the fact that the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal have on several occassions exposed the CFA's protectionist agenda and dispelled its "health and safety" myths. Most of the stories I had found that were blindly sympathetic to the U.S. catfish industry and passionately implemented its scare tactics (which were undoubtedly aimed at consumers' wallets) were from southern news sources. The CFA won a big tactical battle by using this over-zealous and hopelessly naive journalist to get a "yes" vote in the national spotlight. This is just another example of special interests running the gamet and seeking to steal from the American public at a time when economic resources are tight.
I'm really disheartened by the disingenuousness of this story. As a public relations professional in the supermarket business, I find proliferation of innacurate and slanted journalism like this an affront to the majority of fishing operations around the world that do test for and achieve quality assurances and the general public, for whom there is an utter lack of regard, which draws the unwitting to false conclusions about the general safety of an entire category of very healthy food. And Meredith Veira's passing quip from the hip, "that we should definitely buy local on this one", was the epitome of if American waters produce enough seafood for the entire country! She probably thinks bananas, pineapples and citrus grow in NY, as well. I find it amusing that during the oil spill, the media spent weeks producing misleading stories about how much of the world's seafood comes from Louisiana. The answer is less than 2%, though from the news, you would have come to the conclusion that ALL seafood was oil-covered, unsafe to eat and coming from Louisiana. It took months for consumers to get over the unapologetic mischaracterizations and return to the category. And now, you've thrown another nefarious wrench about seafood into the public psyche. Shame on you!
Fantastic, 'Anonymous'! Good for you. I agree wholeheartedly. It's just another sneaky scheme to shy us away from foreign trade.


  • NFI's 28th Annual Chowder Party
    Kick-off the 2016 Seafood Expo North America with old friends and new. Join us to celebrate NFI's 28th Annual Chowder Party to be held on Saturday, March 5th from 6pm - 7:30pm at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel conveniently located adjacent to the Boston Convention Center.