Despite the fact that 300,000 seafood samples from the Gulf have been tested by FDA and NOAA labs — with almost every sample showing no trace of oil or dispersant — some individuals claim that “independent” tests reveal toxins in the local catch.
What explains the discrepancy between federal and independent tests? And which test results should a consumer trust?
According to Don Kraemer, FDA’s Deputy Director in the Office of Food Safety, the agency has been surprised by the number of media stories that give credibility to “junk science” and questionable lab tests.
“We‘ve learned some things through this process about public messaging,” Kraemer said at a recent meeting with Louisiana seafood-industry leaders. “There were some environmental groups that we didn’t cater to, with our communications, and in retrospect, maybe we should have.
“We’re working now to address independent reports that aren’t scientifically sound. And we’ll continue to test seafood in the Gulf to demonstrate its safety.”
Independent tests are often driven by fear and suspicion, not good science. For example, several months ago, some individuals began testing Gulf seafood for traces of dispersant, criticizing the FDA and NOAA for not doing the same
“Our chemists knew dispersants wouldn’t show up in test results,” says Kraemer. “But in response to public concern, we developed a test for it anyway, even though we knew it wouldn’t be there — and it wasn’t.”
Since then, a peer-reviewed study has confirmed that the dispersant did rapidly biodegrade, except for minimal concentrations that remain in a small patch of ocean. FDA chemists had been right.
“Oil spills have been around for a long time, so we know which markers are the right ones to test for to determine whether toxins are present,” Kraemer says. “In this case, we knew which PAHs would be good markers and would clearly tell us whether oil was present.”
For the average consumer, though, who isn’t familiar with the science behind FDA’s and NOAA’s rigorous testing protocols, it’s easy to believe a sensational headline saying that a handful of oysters tested positive for this or that.
It’s easy to forget the unbiased scientists who work on behalf of public health, who ran each of the 300,000 samples through sensory and chemical analysis — and found no trace of toxins.
As Louisiana native James Carville has said, “It’s easy to manufacture fear. It’s hard to manufacture test results.”
An overwhelming number of test results — based on good science — show that Gulf seafood from reopened waters is perfectly safe to eat.