FDA Approves Gulf Seafood Based on "Smell Test"

Lousiana Opens Fishing Waters Despite Health Concerns

Written by Jimmy Mengel
Posted August 5, 2010

We've all done it...

Opened that carton of milk that's a day or two past its prime and defensively sniffed the lid.

“Smells fine,” you may mutter to yourself as you pour it into your morning cereal.

And while the “smell test” may be okay for low-risk scenarios like two-day-old milk, I wouldn't want to rely on my sniffing abilities when it came to more threatening fare like, say, seafood from the oil-fouled Gulf.

Regulators in Louisiana disagree, however, and have decided to reopen a large area of state-waters for certain types of commercial fishing and shrimping.

Now you may wonder just how they know that the seafood is safe to eat...

It's a highly scientific method of assessment, actually: They've smelled it.

Scientists trained in detecting oil and dispersant smelled dozens of species pulled from the water, and deemed them to have “barely-traceable” amount of toxins.

Does that mean it had a trace of oil odor? It barely smelled like chemical dispersant?

Doesn't really make me hungry for an Oyster Po' Boy... gulf shrimp

I think I'd be a bit more comfortable with testing that was, say, scientific?

Or at least measured by something a bit less subjective than various "officials'" sense of smell...

While there are chemical tests available for oil levels, right now there is no reliable test for measuring dispersant levels in the fish.

According to the CDC, long-term exposure to dispersant can damage vital organs and the human nervous system.

Last month, we told you about the health risks involved in cleanup workers' exposure to oil and dispersant. It was suggested by the EPA — for the health and safety of those cleaning the oily beaches — that all workers wear hazmat suits.

And now the FDA wants us to believe that seafood from those same areas, where tar balls are still washing up, is totally safe to eat?

Agency commissioner Margaret Hamburg said that the government is "confident all appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that seafood harvested from the waters being opened today is safe and that Gulf seafood lovers everywhere can be confident eating and enjoying the fish and shrimp that will be coming out of this area."

But as you've probably gathered, the “smell test” just doesn't cut it for me.

I'd compare it to enacting the “5-second-rule” on food you dropped on the grounds of Chernobyl...

With BP finally mounting a few successes, it seems like everyone involved — BP, the Coast Guard, and now the FDA — wants everything to go back to normal and put this dreadful business behind it.

But it's just not that easy. The Gulf has suffered some major trauma, and while everyone would love to see fisherman getting back to their trade, we shouldn't be shortsighted in respect to the potential health risks to consumers.

"It's nothing but a PR move," Louisiana shrimp wholesaler Dawn Nunez told the AP.

"It's going to take years to know what damage they've done. It's just killed us all."

So while it may smell okay to Louisiana wildlife officials, it all smells fishy to me...

Yours in health,

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Jimmy Mengel
Contributing Editor, Clear Health Now