Organic Consumers Association

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FDA Wants to "Sanitize" Raw Oysters

Glistening oysters cradled on beds of ice have provoked a political battle, with fishing industries along the Gulf Coast and their allies in Congress pitted against food safety officials in the Obama administration, who are determined to sanitize raw oysters.

The fight is over whether the government should require that Gulf Coast oysters headed for raw bars around the country first be treated to kill vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium naturally found in oysters harvested from warm waters.

Eager to deliver on their pledge to improve food safety, federal officials say sanitizing oysters is a simple way to save lives. But oystermen, state officials and their representatives on Capitol Hill say the federal government is overreaching and aiming to destroy a gastronomical delight.

Most of the raw oysters eaten in the United States carry vibrio vulnificus, but healthy consumers are unlikely to be affected by it. However, for those with diabetes, liver disease, cancer, AIDS and other chronic conditions, the infection can be deadly. About 30 cases of the infection are traced to Gulf Coast oysters annually, and half of those cases are fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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