FDA: Gulf of Mexico Oysters Unsafe
Officials Plan to Ban Sales of Raw Oysters Unless Shellfish Treated to Destroy Dangerous Bacteria
Federal officials plan to ban sales of raw oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico unless the shellfish are treated to destroy potentially deadly bacteria – a requirement that opponents say could deprive diners of a delicacy cherished for generations.
The plan has also raised concern among oystermen that they could be pushed out of business.
The Gulf region supplies about two-thirds of U.S. oysters, and some people in the $500 million industry argue that the anti-bacterial procedures are too costly. They insist adequate measures are already being taken to battle germs, including increased refrigeration on oyster boats and warnings posted in restaurants.
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 among people with weak immune systems caused by health problems like liver or kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, or AIDS.
“Seldom is the evidence on a food-safety problem and solution so unambiguous,” Michael Taylor, a senior adviser at the Food and Drug Administration, told a shellfish conference in Manchester, N.H., earlier this month in announcing the policy change.
“We have one man who’s 97 years old, and he comes in here every week and gets his oyster fix, no matter what month it is,” said Mark DeFelice, head chef at Pascal’s Manale Restaurant in New Orleans. “There comes a time when we need to be responsible. Government doesn’t need to be involved in this.”
The anti-bacterial process treats oysters with a method similar to pasteurization, using mild heat, freezing temperatures, high pressure and low-dose gamma radiation.
But doing so “kills the taste, the texture,” DeFelice said. “For our local connoisseurs, people who’ve grown up eating oysters all their lives, there’s no comparison” between salty raw oysters and the treated kind.
Maybe I’m just sensitive to this issue, having just returned from Louisiana, a state who’s oyster industry would be largely wiped out by stupid little government nannies like Michael Taylor, but this is simply insane. People make a choice to eat raw oysters, knowing the risk. How do they know the risk? Because every freaking restaurant that sells the nasty things has a sign telling you its potentially unsafe. Job done. We made the choice.
So how about our government do something about warning us about unsafe bridges, or companies pouring toxic chemicals into our drinking water- neither of which we make a choice to use, in large part- and leave the oysters- and the lives dependent on them- alone?