The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

FDA Threatens to Ban New Jersey Shellfish Sales

Human Waste Discharges and Disease Outbreaks Cited; State Must Increase Patrols


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued New Jersey an
ultimatum - either shape up your public health program or risk a
consumption ban on the state's shellfish, according to a letter from a
top FDA official released today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). FDA directed the state to present "a plan to
address the deficiencies outlined" by August 2, 2010 or face sanctions
that would make New Jersey shellfish "no longer be accepted in
interstate commerce" - a move that would cripple the state's billion
dollar market for oysters, clams, mussels and scallops.

June 2, 2010 letter from FDA Regional Director Melinda Plaister to
Robert Martin, Director of the New Jersey Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) was not revealed by DEP in recent legislative hearings
on the subject. PEER obtained the letter under the state Open Public
Records Act. Among the issues raised by the FDA is the state's failure
to address the pollution threat caused by -

"...overboard discharge of human waste from harvest vessels....Human waste
discharge from shellfish harvest vessels has led to serious illness
outbreaks in the past...."

In fact, the FDA "Annual
Program Evaluation Report of the State of New Jersey Shellfish Program"
for Fiscal Year 2009 found " a number of sporadic Vibrio
parahaemolyticus (Vp), cases that...implicated molluscan shellfish" but
the state did not declare an illness outbreak.

"Failure to
prevent dumping of human wastes onto shellfish beds denotes a deep
disconnect in our state's environmental leadership," stated New Jersey
PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that last week DEP Commissioner Martin
spent time unveiling an elaborate new seven-page Vision Statement filled
with lofty rhetoric. "DEP's vision will be impaired if its head
remains between its legs. We need Christie administration officials to
concentrate on competent performance of vital public health services."

also cites deficient levels of patrols and enforcement, noting that the
state has not refilled positions as they become vacant. For example,
one inspector responsible for almost 30% of the state oversight retired
in 2008 and has yet to be replaced. To aggravate the situation, New
Jersey is slated to expand its oyster Vp Control program statewide this
summer but has no additional staffing. As a result, state marine
health-related enforcement capacity is still contracting while the need
for enhanced enforcement grows.

The state hiring moratorium is
complicating its efforts to counteract attrition in marine patrols and
inspections. Nonetheless, DEP is now undergoing a reorganization
(termed a "Transformation") which entails several promotions and new
high-paying slots in the Commissioner's office, including a senior
advisor for Economic Growth Coordination.

"We do not need more
suits in Trenton. We need more marine patrol officers and inspectors if
we want to keep New Jersey shellfish on consumers' tables," Wolfe
added, pointing out that as few as 10 additional staff added to
shellfish-related duties would alleviate many of the concerns raised by

In recent days DEP has attacked research-related gardening
of shellfish to improve water quality in the Hackensack River and
Raritan Bay yet FDA did not cite this issue as a problem in its reviews.

the FDA letter

View the full
FDA report

the new DEP Vision Statement

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.