A new Government Accountability Office report calls on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to improve its oversight of imported seafood, citing the agency’s “limited” program for ensuring consumers are not exposed to antibiotics and unapproved drug residues.

According to GAO, half the seafood imported into the U.S. comes from fish farms. “Fish grown in confined aquacultured areas can have bacterial infections, which may require farmers to use drugs like antibiotics.”

GAO compared the U.S. regulatory program to the European Union’s. “FDA’s program is generally limited to enforcing the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point — the internationally recognized food safety management system — by conducting inspections of foreign seafood processors and importers each year,” reads the GAO summary. “These inspections involve FDA inspectors reviewing records to ensure the processors and importers considered significant hazards, including those resulting from drug residues, if the seafood they receive are from fish farms. The inspectors generally do not visit the farms to evaluate drug use or the capabilities, competence, and quality control of laboratories that analyze the seafood.”

The EU, on the other hand, reviews food safety laws, foreign inspection programs and visits farms “to ensure that imported seafood products come from countries with seafood safety systems equivalent to that of the EU.”

GAO also highlighted gaps in FDA’s testing program.

“The scope of FDA’s sampling program, which supplements its oversight program, is limited,” continues the report. “[T]he sampling program does not generally test for drugs that some countries and the EU have approved for use in aquaculture. Consequently, seafood containing residues of drugs not approved for use in the United States may be entering U.S. commerce. Further, FDA’s sampling program is ineffectively implemented. For example, for fiscal years 2006 through 2009, FDA missed its assignment plan goal for collecting import samples by about 30 percent. In addition, in fiscal year 2009, FDA tested about 0.1 percent of all imported seafood products for drug residues.”

The full report and GAO’s recommendations are available here.