The U.S. oyster industry is up in arms over a U.S. Food and Drug Administration official’s proposal to ban raw Gulf oysters and substitute them with processed oysters.

“If we don’t have the raw, live oysters on the menu, people will just be getting something else,” Kevin Begos, director of the Franklin County Oyster & Seafood Task Force in Apalachicola, Fla., told SeafoodSource on Friday.

“This would cost us thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars, if we were unable to sell our oysters as we do today,” added Al Sunseri of P&J Oyster Co. in New Orleans.

At the biennial Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) in Manchester, N.H., this week, Michael Taylor, FDA’s senior advisor to the commissioner, outlined ways the agency plans to reduce occurrences of Vibrio vulnificus in raw oysters.

By the start of the Gulf oyster season in 2011, the FDA is considering requiring “validated post-harvest processing methods,” said Taylor. According to shellfish industry executives attending the meeting, Taylor also proposed a ban on raw Gulf Coast oysters for five months of the season.

In follow-up meetings between the shellfish industry and FDA delegates throughout the week, FDA delegates said an eight-month ban may be required, noted Begos.

Eating raw or undercooked oysters tainted with Vibrio can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain in healthy people but can be fatal for people with weak immune systems. The bacterium is present in higher concentration during the summer.

The FDA proposal is a stark contrast to previous collaborative efforts with the oyster industry, state regulators and the ISSC on proposed rules and guidance.

“The ISSC has not endorsed this,” said Begos. “If the FDA wants to do this unilaterally, let them take those consequences.”

While the ISSC and the industry plan to continue with FDA’s previously proposed techniques, such as more effective refrigeration practices, Taylor said that is not enough. “This may have resulted in some decline in cases of Vibrio infection, but the decline has been minimal,” he said.

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