Law Firm Challenges Seafood Safety Claims


Stuart Smith of the Smith Stag law firm says the firm’s independent sampling of Gulf seafood contradicts the “safe” label that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) give Gulf seafood in the wake of the BP oil disaster. Smith Stag represents several environmental and fisheries groups, including the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association.

Smith’s clients refuse to fish, despite the federal government’s reopening of fishing areas in the Gulf, citing evidence that seafood is not safe to eat and requires more testing before it can be declared safe.

Toxicologist William Sawyer says the independent tests looked for hydrocarbons in the range of C17-C35, for which NOAA and the FDA have not tested. Sawyer says those agencies are not using certified lab methods, while NOAA and the FDA insist the sensory (or “sniff”) tests are sufficient. The C17-C35 hydrocarbons, according to Sawyer, can impact liver and kidney function.

“The gap (in testing) is rather serious,” Sawyer says. “The hydrocarbons … have almost no volatility. They can’t be detected by nose, not even by a bloodhound.”

Sawyer adds that the samples exceeded more than twice the “tolerable daily intake” based on the FDA’s average rates of consumption: 3.7 ounces of shrimp eaten three to four times a month, and 5.6 ounces of fish eaten 9.1 times a month, for a person weighing 176 pounds. “Obviously people in southeast Louisiana eat more than that,” Smith says.

Sawyer says the oversight in testing is not a difference in scientific opinion but is rooted in the FDA’s reluctance to “admit an error” this late in the year. The seafood testing protocol was written in June.

In October, the FDA and NOAA announced results from another series of seafood tests — going beyond “sniff” tests — but found only 13 samples out of 1,735 contained any trace amounts of oil-based chemicals. However, government scientists de-vein and shell shrimp before testing; Sawyer says the independent tests used intact shrimp.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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