I know how the media works.

Things that kill you slowly, like cancer, are boring. Things that make you sick fast or kill you quickly are exciting and newsworthy. There is a reason it’s called Action News.

When it comes to food safety an uptick in long term cancer rates is a snoozer. But if the children of rich white people who ate seafood from the Gulf start vomiting blood and bleeding from their rectum next Thursday then people who matter will make phone calls to people who can make changes. And things will change. Unless this happens the FDA can get away with not testing seafood from the Gulf for the chemicals in Corexit.


Wouldn’t it be swell if we could avoid the media-friendly sick and dying children and cut right to prevention? Why not have testing that avoids the slow sickness and cancer deaths that will probably happen? Because if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead.  . . .

On August 17 Dr. Gina Solomon, senior scientist of the National Resources Defense Council and 23 other groups wrote the FDA and NOAA, questioning their testing protocols. So people have asked for this testing, but shrimping season already started without it. The shrimpers themselves have asked for comprehensive testing.

This "Better Safe Than Sorry" principle isn’t the American Way (with the exception of dealing with potential terrorists). We live in a "Get Sick and Sue" world. A certain number of deaths from tainted food is considered acceptable. Every year about 5,000 people die from foodborne illnesses. Unfortunately enough of the right people need to die from the right thing for changes to be made.

I don’t know why with months of advance notice the FDA did not include a test for the toxic ingredients in Corexit 9527. Maybe it was because the manufacturer did not tell anyone about the toxic 2-butoxyethanol in it until recently. As we all know, if you never look for something you will never find it.

In science, when the data changes the response needs to change. You follow the data. In politics if you change your response based on new information you are called a flip flopper. In science if you don’t change your response in the face of new data you might be an idiot, or a liar who needs to fudge the data to fit the theory.

What we know is that the scope of dispersant used and the combination of it with crude have not been seen before, so the protocols established by the FDA are out of date. Here is what they said in the beginning:

To date, available information indicates that the dispersants being used to combat the oil spill do not appear to accumulate in seafood and therefore, there is likely little public health concern from them due to seafood consumption.

— Protocol for Interpretation and Use of Sensory Testing and Analytical Chemistry Results. FDA

I would quote the AP story on how the FDA set up testing for 12 substances but not the chemical dispersants but I don’t want to be sued by them. Note the prominence in the article of U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke talking up the $391 million dollar a year fishing industry. Is the FDA ever influenced by commercial concerns? Do they ever feel they must balance the needs of commerce over the health of the people?

Food safety regulations change slowly because of all the pressure from industry groups whose first duty is to their shareholders. The FDA might take notice of Dr. Solomon’s letter. Then in a few months testing might begin. Years from now cancer clusters might pop up and they will be hard to trace back to this specific event. It won’t make the news.



A brain in a box.