Criticism of FDA standards for toxics in Gulf seafood

In the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill, a team of scientists from Natural Resources Defense Council, San Francisco, and the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, have published a critique of the Food and Drug Administration risk assessment of toxic contamination in seafood. The critique contends that the FDA risk assessment fails to account for the increased vulnerability of the developing fetus and child; utilize appropriate seafood consumption rates; include all relevant health endpoints; and incorporate health protective estimates of exposure duration and acceptable risk.

The authors claim that, for benzo(a)pyrene and naphthalene, levels of concern should be between 2-4 orders of magnitude below the level set by FDA and that up to 53% of Gulf shrimp samples are above these revised levels of concern for pregnant women who are high end seafood consumers. The study particularly emphasizes that levels set by FDA for seafood safety fail to take into account the risk to vulnerable populations who eat a lot of seafood.

FDA has responded to the article, defending its approach to risk assessment, and the authors of the first mentioned study have responded that the FDA response, is “arguably rooted more in
politics than in science, [and] ignores the long history of chemical assessments where new data and approaches have repeatedly demonstrated significantly greater risks than initially believed”.

Although the article focuses on seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, the debate over risk assessment practices has broad implications for assessment of risk in foodstuffs that have been exposed to toxic contamination. The article, the FDA response, and the response from the authors of the article, are all available online at

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