Louisiana seafood labeling bill clears hurdle

Updated: Apr. 26, 2019 at 5:43 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Louisiana seafood processors are claiming victory after an early win for a measure they’ve sought for years. They say in many Louisiana restaurants, you’re eating at your own risk, and they hope state lawmakers are going to pass laws to change that.

When it comes to the production of shrimp and crawfish, few states measure up.

“If you’re looking at shirmp and crawfish, it’s a $500 million industry,” said Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain.

But in spite of Louisiana being a national leader in shellfish production, when you step into a restaurant, you might never know where the seafood comes from.

“The restaurants are committing fraud on their consumers. Do any of them show an Indian guy? No, they have shrimp boats, they’re using our Cajun culture to sell these antibiotic shrimp,” said Grand Isle shrimp processor Dean Blanchard.

The seafood industry is trying to change that after a FOX 8 series called Untested Waters. In that series, investigative reporter Lee Zurik pointed out that in 2015, nearly 1.3 billion pounds of shrimp were brought into the U.S., but the FDA only tested 550 samples. In those 550 samples, inspectors found unsafe amounts of drug residue 12 percent of the time.

This week, seafood processors went before the House Health and Welfare Committee to speak in favor of House Bill 335, which is designed to let people know whether the shrimp or crawfish they’re being served is imported.

“For every 10 shrimp you eat, no matter where you live, including Louisiana, nine and a half of those are imported from somewhere else,” said David Veal with the American Shrimp Association.

Louisiana seafood processors say the local product is safe, while imports are loaded with antibiotics and other things.

“The farm-raised aquaculture coming into this country uses sewage in their feeding systems,” said Joe Harrison of Houma, whose family owns a number of restaurants.

Many Louisiana seafood dealers want at least the same standards used in Europe as outlined in our report.

After years of effort, many seafood dealers wonder why it’s taken so long to inform Louisiana consumers whether the seafood they are being served is home grown.

“The store is required to label. Why isn’t the restaurant required to label it? They have a lot of lobbyists. I have a $100 in my pocket, I was thinking about giving all of you some, I don’t know how it works,” said Blanchard.

In the end, the seafood labeling bill passed without objection and now heads to the full House. The bill calls for restaurants that serve imported shrimp or crawfish to display the country of origin on menus, or put it on a sign at the main entrance.

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