Gulf residents' high seafood consumption putting them at risk?

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 8, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Do Gulf Coast residents eat more shrimp and seafood than the government realizes in setting safe seafood standards?

The Natural Resources Defense Council found in a survey of more than 500 Gulf Coast residents released Wednesday that locals eat three to 12 times more seafood than the consumption rate the Food and Drug Administration uses in determining safe seafood levels, exposing those consumers, it charges, to more carcinogens.

"It's common knowledge that people in the Gulf love their seafood," said Gina Solomon, a physician and senior scientist at the council. "When we think of food from the region we think of po' boys and gumbo, oyster bakes and jambalaya. Yet despite this, FDA has been setting safety standards for cancer-causing chemicals based on nationwide seafood consumption rates, failing to take the uniqueness of the regional diet into consideration."

Thirty-six Gulf Coast environmental groups joined the council Wednesday in a letter to the FDA that urged regulators to recalculate acceptable contaminant levels in seafood from the Gulf of Mexico.

In June, during the BP Gulf oil spill, the FDA released a protocol for determining safe levels for cancer-causing chemicals from oil — polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — in Gulf seafood. Based on national data, regulators assumed that people eat two meals of fish and one meal of shrimp per week, with no more than 3 ounces of shrimp per meal, or about four jumbo shrimp.

The Natural Resources Defense Council survey queried 547 Gulf Coast residents in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida from August to October. "The reported consumption frequency for fish, shrimp, oysters and crab exceeded the FDA consumption assumptions in many or most respondents," according to the council's report.

The survey found that the average consumption rate for fish was three servings per week. Shrimp consumption rates were much higher than the FDA assumption.

"Many Vietnamese-Americans in the Gulf eat seafood almost daily," said Jennifer Vu, a co-coordinator of the Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese American Fisherfolk and Families. "We need to know that FDA is using strong guidelines that protect everyone in our community, not just the people who eat four jumbo shrimp a week."

The Natural Resources Defense Council's Solomon said, "It's a wake-up call for the government."

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