Obama Addresses Food Safety Concerns in the Gulf

The Obama administration is attempting to reassure Americans that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat amid the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. President Obama discussed food safety yesterday during a trip to the Gulf. "Let me be clear: Seafood from the Gulf today is safe to eat," Obama said.

In his remarks, Obama discussed the roles of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agencies yesterday issued a joint statement outlining the steps they have taken and will continue to take in order to protect the Gulf food supply.

“The first line of defense is NOAA’s fishery area closures, which began May 2 and are adjusted as the spill trajectory changes,” the statement says. It continues to test seafood samples from outside the closure areas to check for contamination and to ensure fishermen are abiding by the restrictions.

FDA is focusing on shellfish for the time being: “FDA will first target oysters, crab, and shrimp, which due to their biology retain contaminants longer than finfish, for additional sampling. Finfish rapidly metabolize the oil so the risk of exposure is far less than the other seafood species previously mentioned.”

FDA also says:

The sample collection will target primarily seafood processors who buy seafood directly from the harvester. Monitoring this first step in the distribution chain will help to keep any potentially contaminated seafood from consumers.

FDA has also created a focused inspection assignment designed to help seafood processors review their individual source controls to ensure proper documentation and exclusion of any seafood obtained from unknown sources from entering commerce.

That prompts a question: Given the FDA’s struggles in recent years, will the agency have the necessary resources and adequate regulatory muscle to keep contaminated seafood away from consumers?

Fishermen and consumers are already getting screwed by the mess BP has made. One of the few things that could make it worse would be a foodborne illness outbreak traced back to the Gulf’s shores. That would truly be a nightmare scenario.

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