Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Gulf Coast Oyster Industry

(Washington, D.C.) ‑ A bipartisan group of senators that includes U.S. Sens. David Vitter (R-LA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) introduced a bill today to ensure that oyster producers along the Gulf Coast will not be harmed by proposed Food and Drug Administration regulations, and that consumers will be able to continue to enjoy fresh Gulf oysters.

The Gulf Oyster Industry Jobs Protection Act would prohibit funding for FDA implementation of the post-harvest processing requirement or other regulations that would prevent the sale and consumption of fresh oysters. The bill would also authorize funding for the FDA and the oyster industry to expand existing education campaigns to better inform at-risk consumers and to promote best practices for safe storage of fresh oysters by harvesters, processors and distributors. The bill is cosponsored by U.S. Sens. Sessions, Nelson (FL), Cornyn, LeMieux, Landrieu, Hutchison, and Inhofe.

“Oyster producers and consumers across the region have spoken, and they have spoken clearly. These new regulations by the FDA are another massive government overreach that will cause great harm to the oyster industry and to the way of life of so many people who enjoy fresh oysters, particularly in Louisiana,” Vitter said. “The best way to address the FDA’s concerns is not to ban fresh oysters altogether, but to continue educating consumers so they can make informed choices regarding the foods they eat.”

“The FDA has gone overboard in proposing a ban on raw oysters,” said Nelson. “There's some of us in the Senate that are going to try to not let this happen. We’re going to stand up for the people, businesses and communities whose livelihoods depend on the oyster industry.”

“This is an important matter because it threatens jobs in a difficult economic period. It’s critically important the FDA be realistic in its requirements. The decision of the FDA to go forward with this rule change without the consultation of the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference is unacceptable,” said Sessions.

“This will block the FDA from delivering a devastating blow to the oyster industry in the Gulf Coast,” said Senator LeMieux. “Unnecessary, expensive, post-harvest treatment will dramatically change the product these farms produce. The FDA should be focusing on educating those at risk of being affected by raw oyster consumption instead of punishing harvesters.”

“The FDA’s proposed regulation of our oyster industry is like trying to kill a nutria with a nuclear bomb,” said Sen. Landrieu. “The bill we introduced today would halt this overreaching plan and require much-needed analysis of its effect on our state’s economy. A much more reasonable path forward is to step up efforts to educate the small percentage of Americans who get ill from eating raw oysters. This commonsense approach would protect thousands of oyster industry jobs, while achieving the FDA’s goal of keeping consumers safe.”

“With unemployment continuing to climb and millions of Americans searching for work, why the Obama Administration would take such adverse action against a critical industry and the thousands of Texans it employs escapes me,” said Sen. Cornyn. “For more than a decade the oyster industry has worked hand in hand with the federal government, and by now turning their backs on them the FDA is crippling an industry, and by association a region, already reeling from the devastating economic aftermaths of several hurricanes.”

The FDA recently announced new rules requiring most fresh Gulf oysters harvested during warm months to undergo post-harvest processing, at significant cost to producers, before being sold to consumers. The new rules are intended to reduce the relatively low number of deaths attributable to Vibrio vulnificus bacteria found in certain oysters. Nearly all V. vulnificus-related illnesses occur in people with liver disease or otherwise weakened immune systems.

The bill would require that any future rules, regulations and guidelines affecting the harvesting, processing or transportation of domestic seafood be accompanied by detailed analyses submitted to Congress.

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