New oyster regulation draws protests

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) are expressing serious concerns over the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) policy change pertaining to oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico during the months of April through October. And, Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) shares those concerns.

The FDA recently announced at a meeting in Manchester, N.H., that it was withdrawing its previous support of a plan approved by the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) and scheduled to begin full implementation in May 2010. The ISSC is an organization that has been accepted by the FDA for the handling of matters pertaining to shellfish sanitation.

The FDA’s new ruling, which departs from the originally agreed upon plan to manage oyster safety, is proposed to take effect in April 2011 and will have a direct impact on all oysters intended for raw consumption harvested from states bordering the Gulf of Mexico during the months of April through October. The new rule would require that all of those oysters be treated with an approved post-harvest process (PHP) capable of killing the naturally occurring Vibrio vulnificus (V.v.) bacteria that may be present. V.v. may be found in warm coastal waters and is not a result of pollution. The PHP processes currently being used to treat about 15 percent of the oysters harvested from the Gulf include: individually quick frozen, high hydrostatic pressure, low-heat pasteurization and irradiation. The DMR and the MSDH feel that this new requirement is an unnecessary and burdensome change of course for the FDA, which has been working together with the ISSC for more than 10 years on a V.v. management plan.

The DMR and MSDH feel that the FDA’s new stance will be harmful to Mississippi’s oyster industry, which currently employees between 800 and 1,000 commercial fishermen, truck drivers and factory workers and has an estimated economic impact of $70 million annually. This FDA ruling will result in increased costs to consumers and be a hardship on Mississippi’s oyster industry, which is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Taylor, in a letter to the FDA, wrote: “From recent reports, it is clear that the FDA is struggling to handle the responsibilities it already has. The FDA is understaffed to the point that the agency would need at least 27 years to inspect every foreign medical device plant that exports to the United States, according to a study done by the Government Accounting office.

“If the FDA is looking for new responsibilities to undertake, I would be more willing to sit down and discuss the issue of foreign shrimp being illegally dumped into our markets from China. I would much rather see the FDA spend its time investigating foreign shrimp being exported to the United States that create new requirements on an industry that is already heavily regulated by both the federal government and the states.”

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