The Gulf has had a rough few years: monstrous hurricanes, then floods, now oil spills. It’s no wonder that the government and industry are trying to bolster consumer confidence in Gulf seafood. But is it too soon?
Obama doesn’t think so. He plans to serve Gulf seafood at his birthday bash. Neither does BP big-wig, Doug Suttles. He says he’d eat it himself and serve it to his family.
However, some fishermen think it’s too soon. If you ask me, this all sounds like a bunch of PR, and I’m with the fisherman…at least until there is time to do some proper science.
Who says it’s safe to eat Gulf seafood?
Millions of barrels of oil have flooded the Gulf. The well-intentioned, but still feeble, cleanup effort includes manual pickup, as well as the use of dispersants, whose safety is debated. Sea animals have been found covered in oil. Workers on the shore wear hazmat suits. Oil generally seems to be breaking up and disappearing, but it is also believed to be sinking to the floor, as bottom-dwelling crabs have been found with oil in their gills. Despite this, on Friday August 6, the FDA approved Gulf seafood for consumption. Here is a sketchy quote regarding the matter:
“There is no information at this time to indicate that they (dispersants) pose a public health threat from exposure through the consumption of seafood,” the FDA said.
According to the CDC, long-term exposure to dispersants may cause central nervous system complications and damage to other systems. So instead of waiting to study whether dispersants can cause health problems through food, we’ll find out by running a huge experiment on unknowing citizens eating Gulf seafood. Maybe in six months or six years later we’ll find out if there really was a public health threat, right?
How is the gulf seafood safety being tested?
By smell. A team of “smellers” checks any Gulf seafood before it ends up on the market. The nose is quite sensitive – more sensitive than some lab tests are. The smallest amount of oil, and presumably dispersants, can be detected by scent, even over the fishiness.
This method has the potential to be quite effective, but generally there is not enough scientific evidence on the smellers’ effectiveness to please any person of science. There simply has not been enough time.
After the smell tests are complete, the samples are sent to a lab for secondary testing. This may seem like it makes everything OK, but there is unfortunately no reliable test for the amount of dispersant found in seafood. Again, there has just not been enough time to properly develop and test a method for detecting dispersant.
What do the fishermen say?
Some members of the fishing industry – and, get this, members of the New Orleans Saints – have planned a meeting with Obama in an attempt to boost consumer confidence in Gulf Seafood. This seems like too much of a PR move to give it any real merit.
However, despite fishing being their livelihood, some fishermen and companies are saying it’s too soon. There is plenty of cleanup to be done in the Gulf still, and these fishermen would rather do this than contribute to selling possibly tainted seafood.
What do you say?
Will you eat Gulf sea food? Or are you wary?
Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons by lsgcp