Environmental Law

Seafood Safety after the Gulf Oil Spill

  • Update: FDA taking added precautions to ensure safety of Japanese food imports
  • Update: Private lab results question whether Gulf seafood is safe
  • Threats to seafood after an oil spill are threats to us, too
  • Commercial fishing operations and consumers feel the pinch
  • Federal and state agencies work hard to make sure seafood is safe
  • You can make a difference and protect your health

Update

The terrible Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident have prompted some fears about food contamination similar to those after the BP oil spill. Among the worries: that sushi found in Japanese restaurants might be contaminated with radioactive fallout.

It's true that radioactivity from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors has escaped into the air and sea. What's not true is that the sushi you're eating here was likely caught in affected waters.

In any case, the Food and Drug Administration is taking extra precautions to exclude any contaminated products imported from Japan. All milk products, vegetables and fruits produced in the affected region will be refused entry unless proven free of contamination. Seafood also will be diverted for testing by FDA before it can enter our food supply.

Update

Test results from a Boston lab raise questions about the safety of Gulf seafood. A fishermen's trade group hired the lab to test coastal waters, and it found dispersants in samples from waters near Biloxi, Mississippi.

The EPA reports it has tested hundreds of samples for DOSS, a component found in one dispersant, Corexit. The FDA concluded dispersants used in the clean-up weren't likely to concentrate in the edible flesh of seafood species. Seafood from the spill area continues to pass sensory tests as well.

There's several facets to the controversy over seafood safety. Some fishermen don't believe BP statements that dispersant use stopped in July. The trade group's motives are questioned as it is suing BP. Scientists also suggest there are possible unknowns as to how the chemicals will break down over time.

The FDA states seafood from areas reopened to fishing or not affected by the spill and clean-up efforts are safe to eat.

Original Article

Oil spills like the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico pose threats to fish, shrimp, and other seafood. What are the effects and what's being done?

Ship to Store

Threats to Gulf-area seafood translate to us. Commercial fishing operations, seafood restaurants, and seafood lovers at local markets well beyond the Gulf and Atlantic coasts are feeling the pinch.

Gulf shrimper John T. Christmas and other commercial fishers were still recovering from hurricane Katrina when the oil rig exploded in the Gulf. They were also struggling to cope with decreased demands for their goods because of increased demand for cheaper imported seafood.

Now, the oil spill is making fishing and shrimping even more difficult.

Consumers like you and me feel the impact, too. Fewer catches from the Gulf region typically means the price of seafood goes up. It's supply and demand. You're favorite dish at your favorite seafood restaurant may cost more or may not be on the menu because the owner can't find or can't afford the seafood. Likewise, your trip to the local market or grocery store may cost more.

Safety

Other than your wallet, there are other concerns, too. Even if you ordinarily watch the amount of seafood you eat for health reasons, like mercury levels for example, the Gulf oil spill - or any sea-based spill for that matter - raises more health concerns. It's simple cause and effect: Oil is in the water, fish and seafood are in the water, so fish and seafood may be contaminated by oil.

Oil contains many chemicals and compoundS known to cause cancer and other medical problems. Oil isn't the only problem, either. It's still unknown what health effects chemical dispersants used during clean-up will have on fish and seafood - and those who eat them.

Government Action

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of making sure our food is safe to eat, including seafood. Shortly after the spill, the FDA teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to make sure Gulf-area seafood is safe for us to eat. Other federal agencies, such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and US Environmental Protection Agency, as well as state agencies are helping, too.

FDA and NOAA use sophisticated multi-step testing procedures to check the levels of contaminates in fish and seafood. As of mid-July 2010, Gulf-area fish and seafood is safe to eat. They continue to test and monitor, though, and the NOAA has the power to open and close fishing areas to help ensure safe seafood supplies.

What You Can Do

Buy Gulf-area seafood. It's safe. Gulf-region fishermen and shrimpers certainly could use your support, and rest assured it's appreciated.

If for some reason you don't trust the FDA and NOAA's findings, you can find other sources for your seafood so you don't have to remove this healthy food from your family's diet.

It's smart to be cautious about seafood coming from an area affected by an oil spill. If you have serious concerns, do some research and ask the seller some questions to help make sure you make a healthy decision for you and your family.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Am I legally liable as a storeowner if someone gets sick from seafood bought from my store?
  • Can NOAA or FDA close down fishing operations on private property?
  • Does a store or market have to label where its fresh fish and seafood came from?
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