To Eat or Not To Eat?

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to sufferThe slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,And by opposing end them?” – Shakespeare There is a substantial dilemma unfolding on the coast: should we eat Gulf seafood to support our fishermen and ignore nagging concerns about its safety or avoid Gulf seafood as a precaution in the face of great uncertainty and hurt our own home-grown industry? Gulf fishermen who have voiced their own concerns about the safety of the food they are catching find themselves in a tough bind. Fishermen no longer qualify for claims against BP for polluting the Gulf since the federal government declared the seafood safe to eat and have re-opened most of the fishing grounds. There are very few jobs available for those who decide not to fish. Everyone is praying that no one gets sick from eating Gulf seafood. We cannot tell you what to do but we can offer good information to help you make a more informed decision: First: The FDA safety limits do not protect for children, women of child-bearing age, pregnant women, people with chronic health problems, or avid seafood consumers. The FDA set the contamination thresholds based on the health, weight, and eating habits of the average American male. People on the Gulf coast eat a whole lot more seafood than the rest of the country. Second: The results of the official seafood analysis show that there are very low levels of contamination. Even with more protective FDA threshold limits, the seafood would be considered safe if you eat a moderate amount per week. That said, it should be noted that independent scientists with NRDC and LEAN are cautious about the results because the sample sizes were fairly small. For shrimp, the veins were included in the testing; only the shell, legs, and head were removed before the chemical analysis was performed. Everyone agrees that sampling should continue. Fishermen would like it noted for the record that imported shrimp from China do not get the same level of scrutiny that Gulf shrimp are currently receiving. Third: Fisheries that were re-opened have been re-closed due to oil contamination of the water. An Alabama shrimper netted tar balls along with his catch of Royal Red Shrimp in November and tar balls continue to wash up on Gulf shores. Therefore, in light of the continuing uncertainty of the safety of Gulf seafood, we cannot recommend or advise against consuming fish, oysters, shrimp, or other products from the Gulf. Choosing to eat Gulf seafood is a personal choice and should be based on your consumption rate, weight, age, and health status. If you weigh less than 176 pounds, are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, or have a chronic health issue then you should exercise more caution. GRN has been advised by a few of our partners that independent seafood sampling will begin soon. We will report back with more information on the safety of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico as it becomes available. For more information on the FDA safety limits read the NRDC report here. Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Assistant Director of Science and Water Policy for the Gulf Restoration Network.

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