The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has sued the FDA for ignoring its 2012 petition to prevent illnesses and deaths caused by eating raw oysters from the Gulf of Mexico contaminated with toxic Vibrio vulnificus.
The lawsuit, filed jointly with Public Citizen, asks the FDA to set standards to make sure these bacteria are “nondetectable in oysters and other molluscan shellfish sold for raw consumption.”
The FDA is supposed to respond to the complaint by July 25.
This issue goes back a long way. I wrote about it in 2011 in the context of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, Food Safety: FDA Needs to Reassess Its Approach to Reducing an Illness Caused by Eating Raw Oysters.
Vibrio vulnificus bacteria are considered “flesh-eating;” they kill half the 30 or so people who eat contaminated raw oysters. Treating the raw oysters before allowing them to be sold kills the bacteria. California requires this and nobody eating California oysters gets sick from Vibrio. As I wrote in 2011:
In 2001, the oyster industry trade association, the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC), promised the FDA that this industry would substantially reduce Vibrio infections in oysters within seven years through a program of voluntary self-regulation and education aimed at high-risk groups. If this program failed to reduce the infection rate, the ISSC agreed that the FDA could require oysters to be treated after harvesting to kill pathogenic Vibrio.
So what happened? Late in 2009, the FDA said it would issue rules, but backed off under pressure from the oyster industry and friendly state officials.
Despite years of warnings and promises that it obviously has no intention of meeting, the Gulf oyster industry has been able to stave off FDA regulations for 15 years at the cost of about 15 preventable deaths a year.
CSPI and Public Citizen are trying the legal route. I hope it works.