Navy Secretary Ray Mabus wants the Pentagon to buy as much Gulf seafood as possible to help the region's seafood industry recover from the damage of BP's oil spill.
Secretary Mabus reportedly told the Defense Commissary Agency, which operates a worldwide chain of 284 commissaries to provide groceries to military personnel, "that we should be buying Gulf Coast seafood," according to The New Orleans Times-Picayune.
"He expressed what we wanted to hear; he is in favor of the federal government buying seafood from the Gulf," Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, said.
Although the federal government has claimed that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat, experts told Raw Story they had serious concerns about the long-term effects of consuming Gulf seafood.
Multiple independent lab tests have found high volumes of crude oil and other harmful hydrocarbons in Gulf shrimp.
"I wouldn't eat shrimp, fish or crab caught in the Gulf," said Robert M. Naman, a chemist at ACT Labs in Mobile, Alabama, conducted a test on Gulf seafood after being contacted by a New Orleans activist. "The problems people will face, health-wise, are something that people don't understand."
Direct exposure to crude oil can cause a number of short-lived health issues, but the effects of regular consumption of small amounts of crude oil is still being debated by the medical community.
Crude oil contains benzene, which can cause cancer, along with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium, which are toxic to the brain and nervous system.
"Once oil enters, it can damage every organ, every system in the body," Dr. Susan Shaw, a marine toxicologist at the Marine Environmental Research Institute, said. "There is no safe level of exposure to this oil, because it contains carcinogens, mutagens that can damage DNA and cause cancer and other chronic health problems. Many people in the Gulf have been exposed for months -- not just workers but residents. There are hundreds of health complaints from local people with symptoms that resemble symptoms of oil exposure.
"It will be years, possibly decades, before we understand the extent and nature of the health effects caused by this spill," she added.
In addition, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and FDA officials told Raw Story that fish and shellfish being tested for possible contaminates are not being tested for heavy metals. The government has also been withholding key data on Gulf seafood testing from scientists seeking an independent evaluation.
Although most seafood already contains small amounts of heavy metals, scientists and public health experts worry that increased levels could lead to mental health problems and increased rates of cancer.
"We know that heavy metals are linked to the development of cancer over the course of time," Edward Trapido, the Wendell Gauthier Chair of Cancer Epidemiology at the Louisiana State University School of Public Health, said. "So if there is no testing, then that's a problem for sure."
Dock owners have asked fishermen to sign waivers that put the full responsibility for toxins found in the catch on the fishermen themselves, Louisiana fishermen's activist Kindra Arnesen.
The Louisiana marketing board marketing board is reportedly receiving $30 million from BP to promote Gulf seafood.
On December 1, the White House again claimed Gulf seafood was not harmful to consume, writing on its blog that "we at the White House are so happy to play our part in reminding Americans that Gulf seafood is not only safe – but delicious."
Roughly 40 to 50 percent of fishers in the Gulf of Mexico have returned to their job, according to the Times-Picayune.
With additional reporting by Stephen C. Webster and Brad Jacobson.