The Food & Drug Administration announced in October that it would place a ban on untreated oysters coming from the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana is the primary harvester and exporter of Gulf oysters, and the industry accounts for $318 million dollars each year.
Gulf oysters have been deemed a food safety threat because a particularly nasty virus, vibrio vulnificus, can infect raw oysters during summer months. About 15 people die in the United States every year as a result of consuming raw oysters infected with the virus.
The new FDA regulations will allow the sale of properly pasteurized oysters, but Louisiana restaurants and the oyster industry say pasteurization procedures will place a prohibitive cost on the industry and cause many oyster harvesters to shut down. Perhaps predictably, Louisiana’s representatives in Congress have quickly voiced their opposition to the regulation proposal, citing the threat to jobs and increased costs. A little more surprising (at least to me) is the opposition Louisiana Restaurant Association’s opposition to these regulations.
The evidence, however, leaves little doubt that regulating the Gulf oyster catch makes the public safer. California has had a ban in place on untreated Gulf oysters for six years. In that time, deaths from bad oysters went from 40 in the 10 year period leading up to the ban to zero.
Anyone in the restaurant industry knows how important food safety is, and restaurants have taken food safety very seriously for so long precisely because trust is a key element in the success of any place preparing and serving something that could potentially make customers sick.
That’s why I find the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s opposition to these new FDA regulations a little strange. Sure, no one wants to see the operating costs of a vital local industry go up, especially in an area of the country that’s seen its fair share of hard times in recent years. But how can anyone in the food service industry possibly justify opposing regulations on a type of food that has been proven to cause death in a certain segment of potential customers?
That segment is admittedly small. Yet the number of actual deaths in the spinach and tomato scares of recent years was also extremely small, and yet every restaurant and industry association reacted by pulling those items off their menus and taking whatever steps were necessary to protect consumers and avoid a food safety issue.
The Louisiana Restaurant Association’s position seems inexplicable to me. Perhaps someone would care to clarify for me – if so, leave a comment below.