Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal

For 15 years, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been urging the Food and Drug Administration to protect consumers from Vibrio vulnificus—the deadly bacteria found in almost allGulf Coast oysters harvested in warmer months. The FDA announced this weekend that the agency will now require those oysters shipped to other states to be processed to kill the pathogen.

That's a major advance for public health, one that will prevent 10 to 25 needless deaths each year. Technology to kill these dangerous bacteria has existed for many years, but the shellfish industry has steadfastly opposed requirements that it be used. Numerous plans to address the hazard have been tried, but they have ultimately proved ineffective.

One plan was effective, but it was only available to the citizens of California. When the state of California banned the sale of untreated Gulf Coast oysters deaths plummeted from about five a year to zero. As the FDA's Mike Taylor said over the weekend, seldom is the evidence of a food safety problem and its solution so unambiguous. This is the approach being adopted for consumers nationwide by the new FDA policy.

More broadly, this move by the new leadership at the FDA is yet another signal that the agency is reasserting its vital public health and consumer protection mission. This long-awaited action on tainted oysters follows FDA’s action to require on-farm controls for Salmonella in eggs.