photo: imnewtryme (flickr)

The White House, the FDA and the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board are teaming up with a group of celebrity chefs September 13 to promote the eating of Gulf Seafood.

It isn’t “sexy news” to discuss a higher percentage of cancers for small children who eat Gulf seafood more than once a month. But pointing out to the media that the FDA has flawed testing protocols and have ignored safety concerns is news. NOAA using only 12 shrimp to prove the safety of 5,000 miles of the Gulf should be news to the media.

This Monday the media will be shoveling shrimp into their mouths and they might be concerned for their own health if they aren’t concerned for others.

It’s not my job to care about the little kids and pregnant women eating Gulf seafood. Nine years from now when questions are being asked about sick kids the folks at the FDA can say, “Nobody could have anticipated…”

Where have I heard that line before?

Here is my letter to a couple of the people who are trying to break through to the FDA with their concerns:

Dr. Gina Solomon, Senior Scientist, NRDC
Paul Blanc, M.D., M.S.P.H. Professor of Medicine Endowed Chair,

Occupational Medicine Chief, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

Hi Gina and Paul:

According to the blog Obama Foodorama, this Monday White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg will continue the unprecedented White House campaign to promote Gulf seafood. When they talk to the press will they mention concerns for “pregnant women, young children, and communities that rely on Gulf seafood as their main source of food [who] are most vulnerable to chemicals in the oil, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and metals.”? In Dr. Solomon’s August 17th blog post she voiced these concerns and wrote to the FDA and NOAA about them.

Dr. Solomon’s letters to the FDA and NOAA about the flawed testing protocols of Gulf seafood were very powerful. Her letter titled Gulf Shrimp Testing: Is a Dozen Samples in 5000 Square Miles Enough to Reassure You? was alarming.

Unless the FDA and NOAA have changed anything based on Dr. Solomon’s meeting with them last Tuesday, the “White House, the FDA and the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board are proceeding full steam ahead promoting the safety of gulf seafood” Monday September 13 in New Orleans.

I spoke to Dr. Blanc at his book reading in Marin. He mentioned that it wasn’t until Gardiner Harris of the New York Times did a story about a 53 year old Denver man who got “popcorn lung” from eating artificially flavored popcorn did the industry finally stop using the chemical diacetyl in microwave popcorn. Do we need to wait until hundreds of pregnant women give birth to children with neurological damage to push back on the promotion campaigns of the FDA and White House?

Whose job is it to push back on these marketing programs? Whose job is it to look out for the health of the small children whose parents have been told, “Eat More Gulf Seafood!”. Because it is the job of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board to look after the economic health of the fishing industry. They will use the media’s ignorance of the science and its guilt over the economic destruction of fishermen to push seafood consumption.

If you believe that the testing protocols aren’t sufficient and that eating Gulf Seafood presents a “clear and present danger” to the health of Americans then I hope that you have coordinated an aggressive response to this event. Because if you haven’t, then the most that the media will do is give a one line mention about “safety concerns” that will be dismissed by FDA Commissioner Hamburg. The articles will feature photos of shiny happy people eating safe gulf seafood prepared by celebrity chefs.

Do the chefs want to be feeding potentially toxic food to their customers? No. But they do not have anyone to back them up if they refuse. They can’t say, ‘Unless I know that this is tested for heavy metals and Corexit components I refuse to serve it.” They are told it is safe by authorities, so they cook it.

I covered the pet food tainting story in 2007 and I remember hearing the painful stories of people who killed their pets or gave them kidney problems because they were feeding them food they were told was safe by the pet food industry and the FDA. The FDA was using flawed testing protocols then too.

I know it’s hard to push back in the media on food safety when you can’t wield the threat of immediate sickness or death. It isn’t “sexy”news” to discuss a higher percentage of cancers for small children who eat Gulf seafood more than once a month. But pointing out to the media that the FDA has flawed testing protocols and have ignored your concerns is news. NOAA using 12 shrimp to prove the safety of 5,000 miles of the Gulf should be news to the media in New Orleans. They will be shoveling this shrimp into their mouths on Monday and they might be concerned for their own health.

Am I overreacting? Possibly. I’m not a scientist. I’m not in a regulator. However I do know something about political pressure and how people promote things in the media. After 9/11 the White House pushed to declare the air around Ground Zero safe to breathe. Nine years later we see thousands of health problems. If you were to travel back into time and try and change that outcome what would you do? Might this be a similar opportunity? If so, could you help the media and public out with better information about the risks? No time travel required.

You probably have a response ready. I do not want to underestimate the work of your communications people. If you have a response planned please write about it on your blogs so concerned people like me can help you alert the media and the general public.


Michal Spocko

P.S. I’ve copied this letter to Dr. Murphy and a few other people I have been talking to about this issue.


Eric Young, Senior Press Secretary, Washington DC, NRDC
Daniel Hinerfeld, Deputy Director of Communications, NRDC

Dr. Kirk Murphy
Michael Whitney, FireDogLake
Andrew Maynard, University of Michigan
Eddie Gehman Kohan, Obama Foodorama:
Bill Marler, Marlerclark
Mary Siceloff, Outbreak, Inc

Marylee Orr, Louisiana Environmental Action Network
Jim Stiles, Boston Chemical Data Corp.
Marco Kaltofen, P.E., , Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Stuart H. Smith, Smith Stag, LLC
Wilma Subra: Subra Company

John Vidal, environment editor, Guardian UK
Ariel Schwartz, Fast Company
Elana Schor, Greenwire
Elisabeth Weiss, Science Writer, USA Today

George Williams, NOLA Rising Tide

—The chefs scheduled to attend the day of events include:

New Orleans chefs John Besh and John Folse

From New Orleans, in addition to Folse & Besh:
Chip Flanagan, of Ralph’s on The Park; Drew Dzejak, The Grill Room; Greg Reggio, Taste Buds, Inc.; Chris Lusk, Café Adelaide; Christopher Lynch and Barusch Rabasa, Meson 923. Washington, DC: Victor Albisu, from BLT Steak; Robert Weidmaier of Marcel’s, Brasserie Beck, Mussel Bar, BRABO and Jeff Trunks, of Acadiana, Ceiba, DC Coast, PassionFish, and TenPenh. Chicago, IL: Rick Tramonto of Tru, Tramonto Steak and Seafood, Osteria di Tramonto, RT Lounge. Miami, FL: Peter Vauthy of Red The Steakhouse; Michael Schwartz from Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink; Michelle Bernstein from Michy’s and Sra. Martinez. Seattle, WA: Dan Bugge and Chester Gerl from Matt’s In The Market. Los Angeles, CA: Brandon Boudet from Dominick’s. Phoenix, AZ: James Siao of Taggia.



A brain in a box.