U.S. Sen. David Vitter this week secured provisions in a pending food safety bill that will ensure that the Louisiana oyster industry is not harmed by overly broad regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other federal agencies.
"This is a huge win not only for oyster producers, but for everyone in Louisiana and across the country who enjoys the freedom of eating fresh oysters," said Vitter. "From the beginning of this debate, my colleagues and I have made it clear that heavy-handed regulations are not the answer. We've fought back against the FDA's typical bureaucratic approach of more regulations and red tape, and the common-sense provisions included in this food safety bill will ensure that federal agencies won't be able to cripple the oyster industry with the stroke of a pen."
"Allowing the FDA to unilaterally impose regulations mandating oyster processing would be devastating to producers, most of whom simply cannot afford the costly equipment that would be required to meet the government's demands," said Mike Voisin of the Gulf Oyster Industry Council and owner of Motivatit Seafoods in Houma. "We continue to believe that educational campaigns targeting the relatively small population that could be at risk from eating fresh oysters is the best approach."
For months, the FDA has attempted to put forth a rule requiring that all Gulf oysters harvested during warm-weather months undergo processing before distribution to consumers. Industry leaders contended that the costs of such a rule would force many oyster producers out of business and that increased consumer education was a better solution. In response, Vitter and eight bipartisan cosponsors introduced the Gulf Oyster Industry Jobs Protection Act to block the FDA's rule, and parts of the managers' amendment to the current food safety bill were adapted from the language of the Vitter bill.
Specifically, the measures in the new bill would require the FDA or the Department of Health and Human Services to submit detailed studies three months in advance to justify any new rules governing oyster harvesting. In addition, those studies would be subject to an independent review by the comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office to ensure their accuracy. The bill will also likely include language to prohibit "port shopping," a tactic foreign seafood producers use to find ports with loose safety requirements to sell seafood that would otherwise be rejected, as well as requirements that foreign importers follow "equivalence" standards to ensure that food safety processes meet FDA requirements.