FDA Retreats: Oysters Saved. . . For Now

In a startling admission the FDA acknowledged that it did not thoroughly examine the issue of Vibrio vulnificus contamination from the consumption of raw oysters. In a November 13th press release by Meghan Scott, the FDA announced that it was rescinding its planned 2011 ban on raw Gulf oysters citing that, "It is clear to the FDA from our discussions to date that there is a need to further examine both the process and timing for large and small oyster harvesters to gain access to processing facilities or equivalent controls..." This reversal comes as Democrat and Republican politicians bombarded the FDA and President Obama's office with complaints and evidence provided by experts on food safety like chefs, restaurateurs, fishermen and food writers.

The FDA had sought to ban raw oysters from the Third Coast (but not oysters from the East or West Coasts) because of 15 deaths annually attributed to Vibrio vulnificus infection. As it turns out the number of deaths was slightly lower than 15 a year and nearly all cases involved people with disease-weakened immune systems who had consumed raw oysters against doctor’s advice. According to U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, (D) of Bay St. Louis, MS the infection rate of Vibrio vulnificus is a paltry .00005%. Hardly the daunting threat the FDA had led people to believe.

Representative Taylor said in a strongly worded letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, "It does not make sense for the FDA to take on this new commitment." And he was not the lone dissenting voice on Capitol Hill. Joining Representative Taylor in his contempt for the FDA’s policy was Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) who suggested that he might be inclined to cut future funding to the FDA if the issue were not rationally addressed.

Conspicuously absent from the FDA press release was the name Michael Taylor. Taylor is President Obama’s controversial appointment as an FDA consultant on food safety. It was he who first announced the ban on raw oysters from the Gulf region in a speech given last month in Manchester, N.H. The controversy over Mr. Taylor’s appointment arises from the fact that he has spent most of his professional career in the employment of agribusiness giant Monsanto, a corporation with a history in food safety that is dubious at best. Adding to the controversy is the fact that Mr. Taylor has no background in medicine or science but rather is a lawyer and career lobbyist.

Now that the imminent danger to jobs and livelihoods has been delayed the looming issue is why the FDA chose this crusade in the first place. The death of 15 people is nothing to take nonchalantly but in light of the other dangers under the FDA’s charge it seems peculiar. Approximately 873 children choke to death each year the majority on hot dogs, popcorn and candy but the FDA is not banning any of these items. 200 Americans die each year of e coli infections but the FDA has yet to address Monsanto’s genetically modified corn which has been proven as the source of every e coli incident on record.

The entire fiasco has left many wondering whether this was a “wag the dog” scenario crafted to distract the public’s attention from more pressing issues. Or could it be that the leadership of the FDA is really this incompetent?

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WAPT Jackson, MS
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