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Fishermen Respond to New Oyster Safety Policy

Fishermen in the oyster business are not pleased with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) announcement that it will reformulate its policy on processing raw oysters to reduce Vibrio vulnificus, a naturally occurring bacterium that can be fatal.

Michael Taylor, senior advisor to the Commissioner of the FDA, announced last week that the FDA will change HACCP rules to require post-harvest processing to reduce the bacterium before the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC).

The proposal would essentially prohibit raw oysters from being sold during warm months, when the bacteria is most prevalent.

New processes like quick freezing or low-dose irradiation could be employed during oyster processing to greatly reduce the presence of Vibrio vulnificus bacteria and federal regulators insist that the taste and texture can remain intact though these processes.

Those in the oyster business worry that consumers could have trouble differentiating between winter and summer raw oysters and become weary of all oysters, which could be devastating to the industry.

“They came out with this unilateral proposal. A lot of people said they dropped a bomb. Normally the FDA or member states or industry submits proposals and they go through an orderly process of review. This is simply FDA on its own proposing dramatic changes that are very concerning for all the Gulf states that have shellfish industries,” Alan Pierce, from Florida’s Aquaculture Division, told a national wire service.

The bacterium can be highly fatal when it infects the bloodstream. Infection is characterized by fever, chills, decreased blood pressure, as well as blistering and lesions; the illness is fatal about 50 percent of the time, the infection kills about 15 people per year.

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