Natural Resources Defense Council Report
Are Gulf Residents Being Poisoned by Their Seafood?
Doctors recommend eating seafood because it’s low in fat and high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. In other words, incorporating fish into diets can help consumers live longer, healthier lives. For folks in the Gulf, though, fish and shellfish may be silent killers.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report today showing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is grossly underestimating Gulf diners’ exposure to carcinogens in local seafood. In fact, these folks may be consuming as much as 12 times the amount of cancer-causing chemicals that the FDA deems safe. It’s an unforgivable negligence that should prompt the FDA to amend its seafood safety standards — fast.
After the Deepwater Horizon spill spewed millions upon millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the FDA took action and issued seafood safety guidelines. These guidelines outlined the maximum amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), cancer-causing compounds found in oil, that Gulf seafood could contain while still being considered safe for consumers to eat. The FDA based this magic number on the average amount of fish and shellfish diners consume every week — two meals of fish and one, three-ounce dish of shrimp per week. So far, so good, except that the FDA forgot one very crucial, life-altering fact: Residents in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama consume a heck of a lot more seafood than the average American.
The FDA’s one-size-fits-all guidelines assumed that every American eats no more than a couple of seafood dishes per week. But as everyone knows, Gulf residents love them some jambalaya, po’ boys, gumbo, and other dishes that utilize local fish, shrimp, crabs, and oysters. These diners might eat seafood every day — even every meal in some cases. The FDA’s “safe” PAH level might be OK for diners who consume seafood sparingly, but for folks chowing down on the stuff every day? Not so much. “FDA has been setting safety standards for cancer-causing chemicals based on nationwide seafood consumption rates — failing to take the uniqueness of the regional diet into consideration,” says Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with the NRDC, in a press release. “And this is a problem, because it means that current FDA standards may also be failing to adequately protect many people in the Gulf.”
According to the NRDC’s report, Gulf diners are eating anywhere from 3.6 to as many as 12.1 times the amount of carcinogens that FDA scientists deemed safe. The FDA failed to accurately represent other lifestyle facts, too: Of the 547 people that the NRDC surveyed, 60 percent said they weighed less than the FDA’s average weight estimate. Plus, 40 percent of respondents said they had kids at home who were also consuming levels of seafood higher than the FDA’s average.
The real issue here is that diets differ by region, so a one-size-fits-all seafood safety standard is sorely inadequate for protecting consumers’ health. In creating its national guidelines, the FDA forgot about the population affected most by the Gulf oil spill — Gulf residents.
It’s inexcusable for a government agency to act in such a grossly negligent manner. The NRDC and 36 Gulf Coast groups have already sent a letter to the FDA asking the agency to immediately reassess its seafood safety standards, taking local diets and other vulnerabilities into account. You can join them by signing our petition. The BP oil spill caused enough damage to the Gulf. Let’s make sure that Gulf residents aren’t unknowingly eating themselves into cancer in addition to all the other struggles they face.