Mountains of Uncertainty Surround New NOAA, FDA Seafood Testing


It must come as quite a surprise to more casual BP spill observers that NOAA and the FDA are proudly announcing a test for detecting dispersant in seafood – because haven’t we been told time and again that “extensive testing” proves that Gulf seafood is safe? In other words, why would we need a new test if, in fact, seafood has already been declared safe?

Well, if you like what our government had to say about the early oil spill-flow rates (WRONG) and about the “vast majority” of the oil being gone (WRONG AGAIN), then you’re likely to really love the spin on what happened when chemical tests were used to check the efficacy of the infamous seafood “sniff test.”

Put one way, somebody could say this: The sniff tests used to detect dispersant in Gulf seafood fail at least some of the time, raising new serious concerns about contamination even though officials say the levels are not high enough to immediately harm humans.

Want to check out the NOAA spin just for fun? Our government reports:

Building upon the extensive testing and protocols already in use by federal, state and local officials for the fishing waters of the Gulf, NOAA and FDA have developed and are using a chemical test to detect dispersants used in the Deepwater Horizon-BP oil spill in fish, oysters, crab and shrimp. Trace amounts of the chemicals used in dispersants are common, and levels for safety have been previously set… Experts trained in a rigorous sensory analysis process have been testing [sniffing] Gulf seafood for the presence of contaminants, and every seafood sample from reopened waters has passed sensory testing for contamination with oil and dispersant.

It’s later that we learn:

So far, scientists have tested 1,735 tissue samples and only 13 showed trace amounts of DOSS, all below safety thresholds for fin fish and shellfish, the agencies said.

The PR challenge for NOAA is, of course, to build in wiggle room while still spinning the story. I personally like this bit of wiggling from NOAA: “This new test should help strengthen consumer confidence in Gulf seafood,” said Margaret A. Hamburg, Ph.D., commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. “The overwhelming majority of the seafood tested shows no detectable residue, and not one of the samples shows a residue level that would be harmful for humans. There is no question Gulf seafood coming to market is safe from oil or dispersant residue.”

Hey, in the early days of the spill nobody could say there was no oil, because we could see it. But they could say there was just 5,000 barrels a day and wait to see if the dispersant could hide the rest. That’s why they kept the high-resolution underwater video to themselves for so long. Now they can’t really say there’s no dispersant, but they can low-ball the level. Before April, NOAA officials could be offended at the suggestion they would put spin above health, but that credibility is long gone.

I’d love to see Dr. Hamburg’s words on a Gulf Shores billboard: GULF SEAFOOD: OVERWHELMING MAJORITY FREE OF DISPERSANT RESIDUE!

Nobody knows what this really means – given the total lack of transparency. Where did the samples come from? What was the chain of custody? What was the breakdown in types of seafood that were tested, given that the government lumps them all together (a favorite trick of the Spin Doctors)? So we’re left with “trust us,” and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that we trust NOAA in direct defiance of the following directive: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

If we trust NOAA on testing seafood, mark my words, we have nobody to blame but ourselves…well, ourselves and our elected representatives in state and federal government who are selling us out – us, our environment, and very likely our health – in favor of the short-term business climate.

I should note that our research team has developed a method of testing seafood – soon to be revealed – that will disprove the NOAA hypothesis. So stay tuned. We’ll be revisiting this story very soon.

Here’s a good posting of the NOAA stand-up comedy routine:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2010 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • One thing to mention, the testing was done on only one compound, DOSS. There are hundreds of compounds in the dispersant/crude mixture. In the dispersant alone, the most prevalent component is 2 butoxyethanol. Without testing for that one, there is no test – it’s pure bs.

    I wonder if you would be willing to share your ideas on WHY our government would lie on behalf of BP after they have hurt us & our land//sea to this extent?

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

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