Has BP Poisoned Your Favorite Seafood?

Consumer protection, Environment

You see huge chunks of water that are brown and shiny from the BP oil spill, so there’s no possible way you can eat seafood any time soon, right? The answer might surprise you.

Is it safe to eat seafood?

Despite the widespread reach of the BP oil spill, there is still plenty of safe and tasty Gulf seafood to be had. For now, it appears, you don’t need to worry about the accessibility or quality of seafood, although there are no guarantees.

The reason the seafood is still safe for now is that about one-third of federal and state Gulf waters have been closed down for fishing. That’s nearly 90,000 square miles of unfishable waters. In other words, the area where the oil and chemicals resides can’t be fished, so all new seafood is coming from pure areas.

Things could change

However, there are some things you need to keep an eye on. For starters, the oil slick is still traveling, so there could be more seafood that’s affected by this huge spill. There have been reports of oily substances in the Florida Keys, and now that the storm season is here, many worry the oil could push around Florida and eventually spread into other fishing grounds in the mid-Atlantic.

But that’s not all. The other potential problem is that the thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants being used by BP to break up the oil spill could ruin some seafood for years to come. Not only are these dispersants toxic, but they also cause the oil to spread around, causing more marine life to be affected by the spill. The worry is that this could cause carcinogens to enter into our seafood, and that these carcinogens could hang around for a long time.

Relax, the FDA employs expert sniffers

How is the FDA making sure the seafood on your plate is safe to eat? They’re using the old art of seafood sniffing. That’s right, officials are being trained to detect contaminated seafood by smelling it. Apparently, oil-contaminated seafood has a unique smell, and once a sniffer is trained properly, he can detect it fairly easily.

It’s important to rely only on the smell of seafood as looks can be deceiving. Oil can easily be washed off a fish, so if you just look at it, it might appear to be okay. But a highly-trained nose can dig deeper to determine if the seafood has been ruined by oil.

Can contaminated seafood kill you?

So, what would happen if some oil-contaminated seafood somehow found its way onto your plate? Toxicologist LuAnn White told USA Today that it wouldn’t be as dangerous as you might think. White says oil isn’t highly toxic, and that eaters could suffer some stomach aches but not much more.

In order for the contaminated seafood to be really harmful, White said someone would have to eat “tons” of them over several years. Basically, even though contaminated seafood shouldn’t find its way onto your plate, even if it did, you would still be okay.

False perception causes seafood prices to escalate

As it turns out, it’s not the actual oil and chemicals that are causing the seafood industry to suffer. It’s the misguided perceptions of consumers that are putting the entire industry’s future at stake. Despite contaminated waters being shut down, consumers are still afraid to touch seafood. They view any seafood that’s from the Gulf as low quality and dangerous.

As a result, seafood prices have gone up about 50%. BP has already given $2 million to help bolster seafood marketing efforts, and a seafood industry ad campaign is expected to start showing next week. But the truth is the Gulf seafood suppliers have a long road ahead of them before they change the negative perception and earn back the customer’s trust. That’s why Louisiana officials are asking BP to consider a long-term testing and certification program to help consumers see that their seafood really is safe.

So, what do you think about all of this? Has the oil spill caused you to stop eating seafood?