On Testing Gulf Seafood
At his oil spill hearing today, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) questioned Obama administration officials about their testing of Gulf seafood.
Markey, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee chairman, called the special hearing during the August recess after questions about the government’s research on the oil spill emerged. Here’s what we learned from the hearing:
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determines whether seafood is contaminated with oil and chemical dispersants through a series of smell tests.
- As ProPublica and others have previously noted, Gulf seafood undergoes chemical testing for the presence of oil, but not for the presence of chemicals dispersants, which were dumped into the Gulf to break up oil.
- It is unclear whether NOAA tests seafood for heavy metals. The administration said it would provide more details on the issue to Markey in the coming days.
- The administration does not conduct testing of seafood in areas of the ocean that have been covered in oil, only those areas outside of “oiled areas” where some fishing is now allowed.
- The administration uses a 176-pound male as model to determine whether the presence of oil and dispersants is harmful. Markey said that model could be inadequate to ensure the safety of women and children.
But the administration officials testifying at the hearing stressed that all of the tests they’ve conducted show seafood is safe to eat. “We believe that the fish coming out of the gulf do not have issues of concern,” said Donald Kraemer, acting deputy director at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.