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Study: FDA allowed oil-tainted seafood onto market

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, October 14, 2011 11:42 EDT
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A peer-reviewed study released this week has concluded that the government’s safety testing methodologies for Gulf of Mexico seafood were insufficient to prevent oil-tainted animals from being sold in U.S. supermarkts.

Produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspective, the study concludes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) used outdated risk assessment techniques when evaluating the safety of gulf seafood in the wake of the worst accidental oil spill in human history.

Ultimately, the FDA was responsible for allowing food with “10,000 times too much contamination” than should be permitted, the study’s authors said, failing to highlight the elevated risk to children and pregnant women.

The results of the NRDC’s study are in line with a Raw Story investigation published late last year, which cited independent chemists and toxicologists states apart whose tests had concluded that tainted seafood was headed to the U.S. market.

“The sensory test employed by the FDA detects compounds that are volatile that have an odor; we’re detecting compounds that are low volatility and are very low odor,” Dr. William Sawyer, a toxicologist, told Raw Story in November 2010. “We found not only petroleum in the digestive tracts [of shrimp], but also in the edible portions of fish. We’ve collected shrimp, oysters and finned fish on their way to marketplace — we tested a good number of seafood samples and in 100 percent we found petroleum.”

Experts who spoke to Raw Story cited excessive amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which can trigger an elevated cancer risk. Heightened PAH levels are precisely what the NRDC found as well. The group has since launched a petition (PDF) calling on the FDA to recognize the risk posed by elevated PAH levels, and to regulate them in-turn.

NRDC’s study concluded that “FDA risk assessment methods should be updated to better reflect current risk assessment practices and to protect vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children.”

“Our findings add to a long list of evidence that FDA is overlooking the risks from chemical contaminants in food,” study co-author Miriam Rotkin-Ellman said in a media advisory. “We must not wait for people to get sick or cancer rates to rise, we need FDA to act now to protect the food supply.”

The FDA, which had not responded to a request for comment on this story at time of publication, continues to insist that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to consume.

Photo: Flickr user adactio.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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