« December 2009 Table of Contents
Editor's Note: Saving people, or just saving face?
By Fiona Robinson, Editor in Chief
December 01, 2009
Oyster dealers and sellers heaved a collective sigh of
relief last month when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
backed down from its hard-line approach of requiring
post-harvest treatments on live Gulf oysters in the summer
months (see Newsline story, page 8).
It's unlike the FDA to move fast on anything related to
seafood, so the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference was
taken aback when the FDA told the group of its plan to
implement the requirement for the 2011 harvest season. Ask any
processor with a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point program
that goes through regular inspections and you're certain to see
a lot of eye-rolling at the agency's sometimes contradictory
demands and slow reaction time. So for the FDA to come up with
a plan without first consulting the industry was somewhat of a
And to expect that dealers and processors would be able to
come up with funding for millions of dollars of equipment
within a year is absurd. And many of those involved in the Gulf
industry are asking, "Why now?"
It's possible the FDA was caving under pressure from groups
like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI),
which has routinely gotten on a soap box about the potential
risks (methylmercury, and now Vibrio ) associated with seafood
But it seems the FDA misjudged the oyster industry's vocal
response to the proposed dictate. Gulf processors and
politicians rallied around the cause and went straight to
Washington, D.C., to voice opposition to the plan. The FDA
ended that week with an agreement to work with the industry on
potential post-harvest treatments such as high-pressure
processing and freezing.
While oyster dealers may be relieved, it will be short
lived. The FDA was saving face by seeming to involve the
industry, but now is not the time to sit back and wait for the
next shoe to fall. If you're concerned about the direction the
FDA is moving in with regard to Gulf oysters, contact the
members of Save Our Shellfish at saveourshellfish.org, or
contact your local congressman. The CSPI isn't backing down;
it's urging followers to e-mail local politicians with a
message that says, among other things, "nearly all Gulf oysters
are contaminated with Vibrio."
While I'm fully behind increased food-safety measures,
people are going to eat foods that are not always healthy for
them - just take a look at the increasing U.S. obesity rate.
But for the handful of consumers with a pre-existing condition
who get sick (or die) after consuming raw oysters, millions of
others enjoy the bivalve without problems and are getting the
health benefits, too. Consumers should be able to make their
own food decisions - including eating a raw oyster from the
Gulf in the summer months.