FDA Loses Its Last Marble

Nov 11, 2009

No one has ever accused the FDA of being particularly perceptive or grounded, but on October 17 it sallied forth into certifiable nut land with an announcement that, beginning in 2011, it would BAN the sale of raw oysters from the Gulf of Mexico during summer months. That’s right; you won’t be able to get a raw oyster in New Orleans, Apalachicola, or anywhere else, no matter much you want it. What you will get, instead, is an oyster that has been pasteurized or killed in a pressure chamber. According to the FDA, this is to prevent infection with Vibrio vulnificus, which is active in warm waters, but many in the industry suspect that this is the first salvo in the FDA’s attempt to BAN ALL RAW OYSTERS.

If the FDA really wanted to keep us safe, it would ban the sale of raw beef (52 deaths per year due to E. coli) and raw poultry (25 percent of broiler chickens in the U.S. are infected with salmonella). It won’t, of course, because a world of pre-cooked chicken and beef would be a sad world indeed. The CDC estimates that 5,000 deaths per year are caused by foodborne illness; raw oysters–one of the healthiest foods on the planet–account for perhaps a dozen. Why are they getting picked on? Partly because the industry doesn’t have the power to fight back. But it’s also partly because some bureaucrat at the FDA, who probably hadn’t left his office to squint into the daylight in years, was poring over pages of statistics while forking in a box of Lean Cuisine when the thought struck him that consuming raw shellfish seems so…unnatural. I suggest that he stick to his microwave dinners and let the raw-oyster eaters of the world police themselves.

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