FDA ban may include all raw shellfish


Steven Hedlund

Published on
March 25, 2010

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking at extending its plan requiring post-harvest processing on raw oysters to include all raw shellfish from the East and West coasts, according to Save Our Shellfish.

On Thursday, the organization, which represents numerous shellfish processors, growers and associations, released a statement claiming the FDA is moving forward with its plan requiring post-harvest processing on raw oysters even though the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) at its meeting in Denver earlier this month again refused to endorse the plan.

The plan, which would effectively ban the sale of raw oysters for several months a year, is designed to protect Americans who suffer from gastrointestinal illnesses and can potentially die from consuming raw oysters tainted with the Vibrio bacterium.

"The FDA appears to be intent on regulating all raw shellfish just to protect a small group of susceptible people," said Bob Rheault, director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association and a member of Save Our Shellfish. "These immune-compromised individuals should not be eating any raw foods."

Now the FDA is considering extending its plan to include all raw shellfish, including raw clams, from the East and West coasts, said Save Our Shellfish, citing FDA memos.

In a 15 March letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a bipartisan group of six senators and 12 congressmen, including Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter and Mississippi Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, asked the agency to also conduct an audit of the FDA's plan when it audits the ISSC's Vibrio vulnificus risk management plan. The legislators are concerned that the FDA is not performing a thorough cost-benefit analysis of its plan.

In November, Landrieu, Vitter and other legislators spoke out against the plan on behalf of the Gulf Coast oyster industry. The FDA responded  that it would engage with the industry, legislators and the ISSC but did not back off its plan, which is modeled after a California initiative enacted in 2003.

The U.S. oyster industry produces roughly 750 million pounds of in-shell oysters annually, two-thirds of which is produced by the Gulf Coast. Oysters from the warm-water region are known to carry the naturally occurring bacterium Vibrio vulnificus.

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