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In Florida, environmentalists question safety of gulf seafood

Though the state Department of Agriculture has begun ramping up its campaign to educate Floridians about the safety of gulf seafood, some remain unconvinced that it is as safe for consumption as the Food and Drug Administration has claimed.

Just last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonpartisan environmental advocacy group, filed a petition with the FDA, demanding that the agency “recognize the hazards posed by PAHs in seafood and set a health protective standard.” PAHs, or Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, are pollutants that have been shown to cause cancer in both animals and humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they usually don’t dissolve easily in water and have been shown to cause higher rates of birth defects and lower body weights in mice.

According to the NRDC, the problem isn’t that the seafood isn’t being tested, but rather that the FDA isn’t testing it well enough. As blogged by the NRDC’s Miriam Rotkin-Ellman and Dr. Gina Solomon, the FDA has failed to properly assess levels of PAHs in gulf seafood in six major ways. According to Rotkin-Ellman, the FDA:

  • assumed everyone weighs 176 pounds,
  • underestimated the amount of seafood consumed by Gulf Coast residents,
  • ignored the cancer risk from naphthalene,
  • failed to address the increased vulnerability of pregnant women and children,
  • allowed for a high cancer risk,
  • and assumed that the contamination will only last five years.

Consumer confidence in gulf seafood has remained low since last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, which led to nearly 5 million gallons of crude oil seeping into waters off the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama and Florida. Gov. Rick Scott aimed to change the public’s perception of gulf seafood during an appearance in the Florida panhandle last year.

“We know that it is safe,” Scott said in April. “The bigger concern would be if it wasn’t. Our job is to make everyone in the world know that not only does it taste good but it’s safe.”

In addition to undergoing tests by the FDA, some Florida seafood has also been tested by the state Department of Agriculture’s Division of Food Safety, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has repeatedly said that gulf seafood is safe. Just last month, the department launched an online training program for Florida restaurant workers to learn to answer common questions about the safety of gulf seafood.

The Department of Agriculture did not return calls for comment on the NRDC’s petition.

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