MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has agreed to co-sponsor legislation intended to protect the Gulf Coast raw oyster industry from federal regulations that would effectively prohibit the sale of warm water oysters.
Cochran is supporting the Gulf Oyster Industry Jobs Protection Act (S.2752), which was introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) following an attempt by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the sale of oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico during warm weather months.
“This legislation serves as a check on the attempts by the Food and Drug Administration to impose rules that could unnecessarily harm the Gulf Coast oyster industry. The agency would have to show that its proposed regulations would do more good than harm, not only for the industry but for the people who enjoy eating raw oysters from the Gulf of Mexico,” Cochran said.
S.2752 would prohibit the use of any federal funding provided to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “to require that oysters be treated with post-harvest processing or other treatment or cooking or requirements that result in a prohibition of selling or consuming raw oysters.”
Should the FDA propose new regulations on seafood harvested, processed or transported in the United States, the bill would require the agency to provide a cost-benefit analysis, as well as economic and health impact studies, on those proposals. The agency would have to indicate how the proposed seafood regulation compares to similar rules placed on other regulated foods.
The legislation would authorize a cooperative public education campaign regarding raw oysters that would include the FDA, Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference, the oyster industry and other organizations. The campaign would target those people most at risk for harm from eating raw oysters, primarily those with weakened immune systems. It would also provide target oyster harvesters, processors and distributors with information on the best practices for storage and handling.
The FDA abandoned the regulatory scheme following opposition from Gulf Coast members of Congress and the industry. The FDA proposed the ban in an effort to combat Vibrio vulnificus infections sometimes found in oysters taken from warm waters. After initially intending to implement the ban in 2011, the FDA instead indicated that it would begin a one-year study of raw oyster safety.
S.2752 has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.