Policy-ish

FDA Backs Off Gulf Coast Oyster Ban

Gastronomic thrill-seekers and oyster producers, rejoice!

The Food and Drug Administration is putting on ice a planned ban on the sale of untreated, raw oysters harvested from warm Gulf Coast waters due to infection hazards.

Eat up. These New Orleans oysters are still fair game. i i

Eat up. These New Orleans oysters are still fair game. Judi Bottoni/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Judi Bottoni/AP
Eat up. These New Orleans oysters are still fair game.

Eat up. These New Orleans oysters are still fair game.

Judi Bottoni/AP

The agency backpedaled after howls of protest from politicians and the shellfish industry. FDA said last month that it planned to halt the sale of these oysters, if they weren't treated to prevent infections with Vibiro vulnificus, a cause of serious illness in people with weak immune systems or poor health.

About 15 people a year die from Vibrio infections contracted from raw oysters.

The problem is that millions of people at risk don't understand the hazard or don't change their behavior to avoid it, as FDA's Michael Taylor explained at a meeting of Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference last month. The FDA outlined its plans in a letter to the group.

Oyster sellers have been working voluntarily to reduce the number of Vibrio infections, but even the rosiest estimates, according to FDA, show only a 35% decline since 2001. The goal was a 60% reduction.

Some say treating the oysters with chemicals would destroy their unique flavor and make them unmarketable.

Mike Voisin, owner of Motivatit Seafood in Houma, La., and a member of the Gulf Oyster Industry Council, has argued against the FDA's proposal told NPR's Debbie Elliott, "We don't have to be protected from everything. It makes no sense." FDA, for instance, hasn't "banned sugar because it hurts diabetics," he said. "They've educated diabetics. We should educate that at-risk consumer."

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