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NOAA Busts Harp Seal Oil Smuggling Operation by Los Angeles County Company

Los Angeles, CA
October 4, 2013

A federal grand jury returned an 8-count indictment Thursday, October 3, charging the husband and wife owners of a Walnut, CA based nutritional supplement company with smuggling seal oil capsules from China into the U.S. in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The indictment alleges that UBF Group, Inc., which does business as Nu-Health Products Company, falsified documents and labels in order to import and sell omega-3 fatty acid supplement capsules containing oil derived from the blubber of seals. The indictment also alleges that the defendants falsely declared the value of the imports to be about 50% of the amount that was due to the Chinese supplier in order to reduce customs duties.

Seal oil capsules
Seal oil capsules

A warrant was issued for the arrest of the couple, Lin Liang (also known as Lin Fu, Leung Fu, Liang Fu, and Lynn Leung) and Denian Fu (also known as Daniel Fu). Denian Fu is expected to turn himself in to federal marshals today. The defendants face up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of over a million dollars.

The defendants allegedly sold harp seal oil capsules to customers throughout the U.S., Canada, and Vietnam, including customers within the Central District of California. The indictment alleges that from about October 9, 2008 to the end of March 2010, UBF Group “sold approximately 3,734,800 capsules of the seal oil, imported on October 9, 2008, and falsely described as 'fish oil soft capsules'.”

The indictment alleges that the smuggling began on or before April 23, 2007, and continued until the end of March, 2010. At that time, law enforcement officers executed search warrants on UBF Group and seized the contraband. According to Special Agent Nicholas Call of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, NOAA officers were able to seize most of the smuggled goods.

Liang and Fu were additionally charged with importing honey bee royal jelly, honey bee propolis, and lamb placenta from China and falsely labeling them in shipping documents and sales invoices as 'aloe vera,' ginko biloba,' and 'multi-vitamins.' They were also charged with falsely declaring the value of these imports to reduce customs duties.

Harp seal pupThe harp seal oil capsules originated from the seal hunt in Canada, which occurs each spring in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2013, over 90,000 harp seal pups, about 95% between 3 weeks and 3 months old, were killed in Canada’s controversial seal hunt. “Video evidence and scientific studies have shown that the ways in which harp seal pups are killed in Canada’s seal hunt leads to unacceptable levels of suffering. The seals are bludgeoned with long clubs known as ‘hakapiks’ or shot to death from ships by off-season fishermen. The fishermen often miss the seals’ heads and leave them suffering for several minutes from gunshot wounds to other parts of their bodies. Once the fishermen reach the seals, they bludgeon them to death,” explained Dr. Diana Marmorstein, CEO of Harpseals.org.

Although the seals are killed primarily for their fur, some of their blubber is also processed into omega-3 fatty acid capsules. Studies of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination of omega-3 supplements have found much higher levels of the toxins in harp seal oil than in oil from small fish. Levels in supplements derived from plants were undetectable. According to the studies, if the most contaminated samples of seal oil were taken according to the recommended doses, consumers would be exposed to levels of PCBs considered unsafe by the World Health Organization.

All seal products, including seal fur and seal oil, are illegal to import into the U.S. according to Section 1372 (a) (4) (B) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1361, et seq., that forbids the transportation, purchase, sale, or export of any marine mammal product, or offer to do so. The MMPA was signed into law on October 21, 1972, and was enacted to protect all marine mammals from being killed or harmed in U.S. waters or by U.S. citizens on the high seas.

In the past few years, the European Union and the Russian Federation, have also banned seal product imports, causing the markets for seal products to plummet. In order to save the sealing industry, the government of the Province of Newfoundland, Canada, provided two CAN$3.6 million loans to the primary seal skin processor in Newfoundland, Carino, which is a subsidiary of a Norwegian company, G.C. Rieber & Co.

Harpseals.org and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are urging Americans to help stop the smuggling of seal oil into the U.S. by alerting NOAA investigators at 1-800-853-1964 or Harpseals.org (contact@harpseals.org, 1.866.4.HARPSEALS) to suspicious products. These products may have labels in Chinese or English. The contents may be labeled ‘Marine oil’ or ‘Seal oil’. They are most likely to be found in Asian grocery stores.

Harpseals.org is an all-volunteer charitable organization dedicated to ending the slaughter of harp seals in Canada, Cape fur seals in Namibia, and all seals worldwide. Harpseals.org has educated the public with internet, mass media, and direct outreach campaigns since 2003.

References:

Indictment CR No. 13 00723 United States District Court for the Central District of California, United States of America , Plaintiff, v. LIN LIANG aka “Lin Fu,” aka “Leung Fu,” aka “Liang Fu,” aka “Lynn Leung,” DENIAN FU, aka “Daniel Fu,” and UBF GROUP, INC., doing business as “Nu-Health Products Company,” Defendants.

“Persistent Organic Pollutants in Fish Oil Supplements on the Canadian Market: Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Organochlorine Insecticides,” by Dorothea F.K. Rawn, et al., Journal of Food Science, 74:1 2008 pp. T14-T19.

“Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contamination and aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) agonist activity of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements: Implications for daily intake of dioxins and PCBs,” by J.A. Bourdon, et al. Food and Chemical Toxicology 48:11 2010 pp. 3093-3097

News Articles:

http://www.sgvtribune.com/general-news/20131004/walnut-couple-indicted-for-importing-seal-products

http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/general-news/20131004/walnut-couple-indicted-for-importing-seal-products

 

http://www.labusinessjournal.com/news/2013/oct/04/business-owners-indicted-seal-oil-smuggling-case/

 

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