Statement of Caroline Smith DeWaal on the release of a GAO report on Shellfish Safety|
Todays Government Accounting Office (GAO) report on the Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) shellfish program is a devastating portrayal of a seafood-safety system that fails to protect consumers from contaminated shellfish. The new GAO report confirms key conclusions from the Center for Science in the Public Interests (CSPI) recently released report, Death on the Half Shell. The two reports urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to redesign its shellfish program to better address Vibrio vulnificus. They also criticize the shellfish industry for failing to take aggressive steps to reduce Vibrio vulnificus-related deaths and illnesses.
Over 100,000 food poisoning illnesses are linked to shellfish annually, including those caused by the potentially deadly Vibrio vulnificus bacterium, which kills at least 15-20 people each year. The GAO concludes that consumer education campaigns on Vibrio vulnificus have been ineffective and specifically urges the FDA to require proven pathogen-control methods, such as post-harvest processing of shellfish to eliminate bacteria.
More must be done to protect consumers from contaminated raw shellfish. Last week, CSPI launched the Serving Safer Shellfish campaign, to encourage restaurants, retailers, and wholesalers who serve or sell shellfish for raw consumption not to buy Gulf Coast shellfish unless they have been processed to eliminate harmful bacteria, like Vibrio vulnificus. Alternatively, SSS participants can select safer varieties of shellfish harvested from cold waters. Consumers should look for the SSS logo in restaurant chains like Legal Seafood and retailers like Costco.
The GAO report concludes that FDAs shellfish safety program, using the industry-dominated Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC), is just blowing smoke at serious public-health problems. Until the FDA fixes its shellfish program, consumers should not eat untreated raw Gulf Coast shellfish.