The United States added farm-raised fish and shrimp to a growing list of Chinese products deemed unsafe for US consumers, regulators said Thursday.
The US Food and Drug Administration said it would block the import of farmed Chinese seafood until importers could prove the shipments were free of unsafe contaminants.
The move comes just days after lawmakers urged a recall of up to 450,000 Chinese tires because of safety defects and weeks after thousands of cats and dogs died because of tainted Chinese pet food.
Dangerous toys, fake drugs, toxin-coated cosmetics, illicit pesticide-laden mushrooms, errant fireworks, tainted toothpaste and other Chinese products have led to recalls and bans and potentially more stringent import and food safety laws.
"I think we have reached a point unfortunately where 'made in China' is now a warning label in the United States," Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, a top campaigner in the US Congress for tighter food safety laws, said recently.
The actions come amid growing protests over the massive US trade deficit with China, which stood at 19.3 billion dollars in April and 232.5 billion in 2006.
Thursday's broad import control was imposed after regulators repeatedly found seafood shipments contaminated with antimicrobial agents that are not approved for use in the United States, the FDA said.
It affects all farm-raised catfish, basa, shrimp, dace (related to carp), and eel from China.
There have been no reports of illnesses to date and exporters will be able to seek exemptions if they prove they have protected their fish from contamination, the FDA said.
"We're taking this strong step because of current and continuing evidence that certain Chinese aquaculture products imported into the United States contain illegal substances that are not permitted in seafood sold in the United States," David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection, said in a statement.
"We will accept entries of these products from Chinese firms that demonstrate compliance with our requirements and safety standards."
The levels of the drug residues found in the seafood are very low, most often at or near the minimum level of detection, the FDA said.
It has not issued a recall of fish already admitted into the country but said it was "concerned about long term exposure as well as the possible development of antibiotic resistance."
One of the banned agents, fluoroquinolones, is approved for use in China. The FDA said its use "may increase antibiotic resistance to this critically important class of antibiotics."
Two other contaminants, the antimicrobials nitrofuran and malachite green, have been shown to be carcinogenic with long-term exposure in lab animals and also banned in China.
China is the largest producer of seafood from aquaculture in the world, accounting for 70 percent of the total production and 55 percent of the total value of farmed seafood exported around the world.
China is currently the third largest exporter of seafood to the United States, which imports about 80 percent of its seafood.