Forget raw milk. The big new conflict is over raw oysters:
In an effort to reduce cases of a rare, but potentially fatal, bacterial illness contracted from raw oysters, the FDA announced new rules this month that will require any oyster served from April through October to undergo a sterilization process before it can be sold in restaurants or on the market.
The rule will essentially eliminate raw oysters — at least as Louisianans know them — from restaurant menus for seven months of the year. Even oysters that will eventually be cooked during those months would have to go through the same cleansing process before being added to any dish, a move some say would undermine the culinary integrity of some of New Orleans’ most famous delicacies.
The illness in question is serious but rare, and primarily affects only those with weakened immune systems:
The vibrio vulnificus disease, the target of the FDA initiative, affects about 30 individuals per year nationwide who eat raw oysters from Gulf Coast. About half of those who get the disease, which invades the bloodstream and can cause a severe fever and skin lesions, eventually die.
But those most at risk from vibrio are people who already have immune system disorders, such as AIDS, cancer, kidney disease, diabetes or alcohol abuse.
As is typical of the FDA, the agency is choosing coercion over education and ignoring the right of adults to take a calculated risk in pursuit of culinary delicacies. The new rules will also favor large oyster operations and hurt small businesses, due to the large capital investments required to sterilize the oysters. It will surely lead to a robust black market in unsterilized oysters too.
The rule won’t take effect until 2011, so there’s still some chance to save raw oysters from the FDA’s overreach.
[Via Ryan Young's excellent Regulation of the Day feature.]