The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said it is increasing its efforts to ensure the safety of fish and seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, and has released new guidance for industry.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the FDA have released a joint statement outlining how they plan to tackle seafood safety issues related to the ongoing oil spill in the region. Specifically, the plan includes precautionary closures of fishing areas, increased testing of seafood samples, and a protocol for reopening affected areas of the Gulf.
Undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco said: “Closing harvest waters that could be exposed to oil protects the public from potentially contaminated seafood because it keeps the product from entering the food supply. Combining the expertise of NOAA and FDA is the best way to use our scientific abilities to help the American people in this emergency."
The FDA said that it would initially concentrate on increased sampling of oysters, crab and shrimp, which retain contaminants in their bodies longer than finfish. The agency added that it would target seafood processors that obtain their products directly from harvesters in an effort to stem any possible contamination problems at the first step in the supply chain.
“Monitoring this first step in the distribution chain will help to keep any potentially contaminated seafood from consumers,” the FDA said.
In addition, the FDA and the NOAA said it would increase inspection of seafood processors to ensure proper documentation detailing the provenance of all seafood entering the US food supply, and to stop seafood of unknown origin from coming to market.
FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said: “It is important to coordinate seafood surveillance efforts on the water, at the docks and at seafood processors to ensure seafood in the market is safe to eat."
The federal government declared a “fishery disaster” in the Gulf of Mexico late last month due to the massive oil spill in the region.
The fishing area affected includes Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, an area where more than 1bn pounds of fish and shellfish were harvested in 2008, according to the most recent available government figures.
Louisiana is the top provider of shrimp, oysters, crab and crayfish in the United States, providing about a third of the seafood consumed, according to the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.
The FDA’s letter to the fish and fishery products industry is available here .