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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

“Change?” Give me a $%&#ing Break – FDA backs off oyster ban after strong criticism

I’m still dealing with a bit of jet lag from my trip to China.  I woke up too early this morning (about 1 AM), and just woke up from a nap in my office chair to yet another move by the Obama administration that shows that "real change" in Washington is hard to come by – unless it is another cash request by a political candidate. 

First, let me make clear that I dumped a lot of "change" into the Democratic change wagon – I have given or raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates over the last several years.  My goal was to put people in office that did good public policy.  Well, I guess I needed to wake up literally and figuratively. 

So, the food safety reality?  "Real change" Legislation is bogged down in the Senate, and despite overwhelming public and industry support, the bill will likely not come out of committee until next year – "change is on the way?" 

Now, the FDA runs and hides from the Oyster industry.  Here is what AP just posted on the wire:

Facing fierce resistance, the Obama administration on Friday backed off a plan to ban sales of raw oysters from the Gulf of Mexico during warm-weather months.

The abrupt turnaround came as oyster-lovers and industry officials — as well as Democrats and Republicans across the Gulf — blasted the plan as unnecessary government meddling. Industry officials said it could have killed a $500 million economy and thousands of jobs.

"They might have been tone-deaf in the beginning, but they got the tune pretty quickly and listened to what we had to say," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who said FDA Commissioner Peggy Hamburg notified her of the decision Friday afternoon. "I’m really thankful that they listened."

About 15 people die each year in the United States from raw oysters infected with Vibrio vulnificus, which typically is found in warm coastal waters between April and October. Most of the deaths occur in people with weak immune systems caused by health problems like liver or kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, or AIDS.

While the total number of deaths is small compared with the annual estimates of 5,000 U.S. deaths from food-borne illnesses, FDA officials say it is a relatively high frequency that could be easily eliminated by processing oysters through treatments such as pasteurization.

Industry officials argue that anti-bacterial processing is too costly. They also say the treatments ruin the fresh taste and texture of raw oysters, which are considered a delicacy by many, particularly in the Gulf, which supplies about two-thirds of the U.S. oyster harvest.

The oyster industry has been working with regulators for years to improve its safety performance by increasing refrigeration and trying to raise awareness of the hazards to people with weak immune systems.

But the FDA says the results haven’t changed much.

The FDA proposal — which was announced last month and had been slated to go into effect in 2011 — would have prohibited sales of raw oysters from the Gulf for much of the year unless the shellfish were treated.

Perhaps the FDA should never have passed the ban to begin with, but FDA, get some b%$*%s for goodness sake.  "Change you can believe in" my a%$!  Democratic candidates – do not bother calling, this "change" machine is out of order.

  • Sam Grubb

    Eat shit (the food industry) and die quickly (the insurance industry). No, this isn’t the change I voted for either.

  • Dr Raymond

    Too bad the FDA won’t declare whole carcass, low dose irradiation to be a processing aid and not a food additive. Then we could see real change in the safety of beef. They have only had the request for three years now.

  • cheryl berenson RN, MS-MPH student OHSU

    Isn’t the FDA supposed to protect the public health of the country?? and not be politicized?? fat chance!!(just look at reproductive health in the last few years)

  • Lance

    Ummm, irradiation of meat isnt the answer, in my opinion its just asking for more trouble. Look at Orijen with their cat food problem & the cats their irradiated food killed & left damaged in Australia if you want to see why. Our pets are truly the canaries in the coalmine. We should pay heed to what that problem has taught us. The answer is industry (both human and pet food) being required to take better safety measures with a revamped FDA having better authority over industry. I agree, so far the lack of any changes in FDA is not what I voted for either. Im hoping they dont blow their chance. Time’s a wasting.

  • Michele

    Lance,
    Orijen taught us that misuse of the technology can be dangerous. The dosages used to reduce pathogens in foods are usually 10kGy or less. I think treatment of spices can go up to 30kGy. The cat food was subject to a total gamma irradiation dose of over 50kGy! And, cats have unique metabolic systems that are very sensitive to toxins and nutrient imbalances (thus, I agree that they are the canaries in the coal mine). More details can be found in this manuscript:
    Ataxia and paralysis in cats in Australia associated with exposure to an imported gamma-irradiated commercial dry pet food.
    http://www.box.net/shared/4295q799an
    As an analogy, it wouldn’t make sense to stop using anesthesia during surgeries just because someone made a mistake by applying a dose 5x higher than recommended and killed or injured the patient(s).
    Irradiation could save lives if used appropriately in the food system (including deaths from Vibio vulnificus in raw oysters). The decision to use (or not use) this technology should be based on sound scientific evidence…not politics or hysteria.

  • Harry Hamil

    Bill, almost nothing is accurate in your statement, “Legislation is bogged down in the Senate, and despite overwhelming public and industry support, the bill will likely not come out of committee until next year.”
    “Bogged down?” Despite being at the epicenter the huge health care fight, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee held a very public meeting on the legislation on October 22 at which ONLY supporters were allowed to testify. Since then, the committee members’ staffs have held numerous meetings including 3 in the last week. Also, is it possible that you don’t know that S 510 is scheduled for mark up in an executive session of the HELP Committee at 10 AM Wednesday, November 18 with the goal of reporting it to the floor just after Thanksgiving?
    Any hold up is probably due to the fact that the HELP Committee has been repeatedly misled by the FDA (including Dr. Hamburg–documentation available) and has begun understanding the tragic unintended consequences the legislation will have on those of us who grow, process and distribute the healthiest food in America.
    What “overwhelming public” support? A misleadingly worded survey? I’ve worked 60+ hours a week on this for over 3 months and the primary “public” I see supporting this legislation is you, Bill, and the Make Our Food Safe Coalition led by CSPI’s Caroline Smith DeWaal. CSPI’s recent “study,””The Ten Riskiest Foods Regulated by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration” is remarkably unscientific and inaccurately labels leafy greens as the riskiest food regulated by the FDA.
    Also, according to Govtrack.us, the “industry support” of S 510 is just that–the industrial food system. It lists supporters as the American Frozen Food Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Fisheries Institute, United Fresh Produce Association, National Restaurant Association [They are exempted!], Produce Marketing Association, General Mills and Kraft Foods North America. Not one group from the healthy food movement.
    Contrast that with the calls for major change to the legislation by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (83 organizations), the National Organic Coalition (11 organizations) and dozens of other groups supporting local food. OK subtract one from my count above as the Food & Water Watch wants it both ways by being in BOTH the NOC and the Make Our Food Safe Coalition.
    Simply put, Bill, only the large entities of the industrial food system can afford the cost of the one-size-fits-all food safety plan requirements in Sec. 103 of S 510. Local food for local people can’t.
    Openly debate me, Bill. I’m just a small time grower, retailer and distributor. My wife, Elaine, and I have invested 14+ years of our lives and 6 figures of our money earned elsewhere growing and making healthy food available to our community. The money had to come from elsewhere as we haven’t made the minimum wage during that period. We’ve put our fall/winter crops on hold to fight for healthy food. I will happily defend every claim I make with clear cites that are not misleading. I am easily reached at hhamil@buncombe.main.nc.us or 828/669-4003.
    Bill, you’ve repeatedly said that you will support us, small growers, against inappropriate regulation because we are part of the solution NOT the cause of the problem. Well now it’s time to walk your talk. This bill will relegate us to being a niche for the affluent.
    What we need is healthy food for everyone. Healthy food is always safe food. As for what the Federal government calls “safe food,” how much of it do you want your children and grandchildren eating? As Michael Pollan says, they need to eat real food. As written, HR 2749 or S 510 will reduce the availability of healthy food. Either bill will move us quite a bit further down the path to the food system portrayed over 30 years ago in the movie, “Soylent Green.” Of course, the Soylent Corporation’s wafers were safe.

  • Lance

    Michelle, your analogy is a little off, in my opinion. I think the key word is IF its appropriately used in the food system. FDA cant even control food industry practices right now but for some reason you think adding irradiation to that pile of problems would make it better. In other words, lets add another problem to the existing problem…smart. Its funny you indicate that cats are very sensitive to toxins and nutrient imbalances….most of us with dead pets from the 2007 melamine/cyanuric acid pet food problem already know that except for some reason pet food industry still has no oversight and FDA still has no recall authority over anything except for baby food. I know, how bout you volunteer to having just your food irradiated first and then in about 10 years, you let us know how you are doing. If irradiation is so wonderful, how come Australia is looking into stopping or at least limiting that practice? Just because someone doesnt agree with you doesnt mean its politics or hysteria. I would go as far as stating your lack of concern over that practice is bordering on the edge of dangerous.

  • Lance

    I would like to point out that its not just the fact that the Orijen pet food problem killed and sickened cats, its how the problem was allowed to happen in the first place, lack of safe and thorough process even in Australia where irradiation has been happening for a long time. But for some reason, people think the U.S. can do it better….how bout the U.S. learning from other people’s mistakes and just say no. And by the way, its not just dangerous to cats.
    http://www.rense.com/general81/foodr.htm