Gulf Oyster Farmers Face Federal Ban

NEW ORLEANS (Oct. 28, 2009)—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 costly requirement that opponents say could ruin the local industry.

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.

Some oyster sellers say the FDA rule smacks of government meddling. The sales ban would take effect in 2011 for oysters harvested in the Gulf during warm months.

Food and Drug Administration transcript on the raw oyster ban: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Speeches/ucm187012.htm

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