President Obama Dines on Seafood in the Gulf as NOAA and FDA Announce Efforts to Monitor Seafood Safety

Pushing back against growing criticism of the Administration’s response to the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama paid another visit to the region this week and outlined the federal response efforts in a nationwide address from the Oval Office.

“Already, this oil spill is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced. And unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it’s not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days,” said Obama from the Oval Office yesterday, in his first address from the office during his Presidency. “The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years.”

All week the President carefully balanced underscoring the severity of the disaster and expressing optimism that the cross-agency government response, in coordination with BP, would eventually restore the Gulf “to be in better shape than it was before.”

obama at tacky jacks.jpgPresident Obama also entered new waters by declaring–and demonstrating–that seafood coming from the Gulf remains safe to eat. The President ate mini crab cakes, fried shrimp, and shrimp salad sandwiches for lunch on Monday during his tour of the region and told reporters the seafood was “delicious.”

“This is important for consumers who need to know that their food is safe, but it’s also important for the fishermen and processors who need to be able to sell their products with confidence,” Obama said.

“I’m announcing a comprehensive, coordinated and multi-agency initiative to ensure that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat.” President Obama said, during a press conference in Gulfport, Mississippi Monday. “So let me be clear. Seafood from the Gulf today is safe to eat.”

After a seafood-filled lunch, President Obama ended the day at Tacky Jack’s seafood restaurant in Orange Beach, Alabama, where he ordered crab claws, crawfish tails, and seafood salad for dinner to again drive home the point that consumers shouldn’t worry about seafood from the region.

The President’s emphasis on seafood coincided with an interagency announcement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on enhanced efforts, including precautionary closures and increased seafood testing to ensure seafood coming from the Gulf is safe to eat.

“Closing harvest waters that could be exposed to oil protects the public from potentially contaminated seafood because it keeps the product from entering the food supply,” said Jane Lubchenco, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator in a statement Monday. “Combining the expertise of NOAA and FDA is the best way to use our scientific abilities to help the American people in this emergency.”

NOAA’s fishery area closures, which began May 2, and adjust as the spill trajectory changes, now affect 32 percent of federal waters. According to federal officials, the closed area also includes a five-nautical-mile buffer as a precaution around the known location of oil.

Pictured: President Barack Obama sips an iced tea while talking to patrons at Tacky Jack’s where he dined on seafood during his tour of the Gulf Coast, June 14, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)