Dangers Of Imported Shrimp

Chris Lewis is a Louisiana state inspector on a mission to find contaminated shrimp.

The state is testing for chloramphenicol, a powerful antibiotic that has been banned in food, because it is also a suspected carcinogen that may cause anemia and leukemia in humans.

But as CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, despite the ban on chloramphenicol, it is routinely found in imported shrimp.

Today, 80 percent of America's shrimp is imported, with much of it coming from Asian countries, which for years used chloramphenicol in the feed.

"Chloramphenciol is a serious problem in the human food supply," says food safety expert Caroline Smith DeWaal. "It's like taking a drug that's not prescribed."

Food safety experts, like DeWaal, say the ban on the drug is a joke. The FDA, she says, tests less than 2 percent of imported seafood.

"It's almost a certainty that some of the shrimp we are eating is contaminated with antibiotics that would be illegal in this country," says Smith DeWaal.

American shrimpers charge that the burst of imports, some of it tainted, has devastated their industry.

The collapse in domestic shrimp sales has an impact even in the Arizona desert. Shrimp farmer Gary Wood uses the arid climate and pristine well water to grow what he calls the cleanest shrimp anywhere: no antibiotics, no chemicals. But even his business is on the brink of failure.

"With the way they are bringing in the tainted shrimp into the United States right now and the prices as low as they are, we may just have to give it away," says Wood.

The shrimp importers respond that the chloramphenicol scare is way overblown. They say the U.S.-based industry is simply losing a trade competition fair and square and is, in a word, whining.

"There has never been any instance of anybody having an adverse health effect from eating shrimp," says shrimp importer Joel Kolen.

Importers, like Kolen, say the industry enforces the ban with its own testing.

But in Louisiana, with the most rigorous testing in the county, 9 percent of all samples tested have been found with chloramphenicol. Too often, America's favorite seafood entree includes an unwanted drug dose on the side.