The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kate Hornyan (202) 265-7337

Where Is the New Jersey Shellfish 'Action Plan'?

Deadline Today to Address Critical Public Health Deficiencies Identified by FDA


Today the State of New Jersey is supposed to present "Action Plans"
to cure a host of failings in its shellfish program cited by the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration or risk a consumption ban, according to
documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). Among the issues the state must address this summer are a halt
to harvest vessels dumping human wastes over shellfish beds, more
seaworthy patrol boats staffed by an adequate number of trained
personnel and extending full inspection coverage to all processing

In a June 2, 2010 warning letter accompanying a
scathing report, the FDA took the state Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) and Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to
task for -

  • Insufficient DEP staffing to meet patrol frequency requirements, particularly for prohibited, restricted, and closed areas that represent the greatest public health risks;
  • Failure by DEP to purchase a larger and seaworthy vessel required to patrol shellfish growing waters, including Delaware Bay;
  • DHSS noncompliance with inspection requirements for certified shellfish dealers.
  • A serious (30%) shortfall in DEP marine water sampling due to loss of employees, a problem compounded by DEP layoff and furlough policies;
  • The need for microbial pollution source tracking in waters fouled by non-point source pollution, including the upper Navesink River, Sandy Hook Bay, and Shrewsbury River;
  • Absence of state regulations that prohibit overboard discharge of human bodily wastes and prevent the public health risks that result from such discharges.

the DEP and DHSS have failed to provide FDA with previously agreed to
Action Plans to correct these violations. In recent days both agencies
claim to be incompliance with FDA standards but neither has yet to
specify how they attained compliance or whether the FDA agrees with
these self-assessments.

"Has New Jersey fielded enough horsepower
to protect our shellfish industry?" asked New Jersey PEER Director Bill
Wolfe, who first revealed the FDA's critical report and warning about
the status of the state shellfish program. "The state should publicly
release its Action Plans and give the public concrete assurances that
these plans are backed up by sufficient personnel and equipment to carry
them out."

New Jersey had made commitments to the FDA to
implement corrective actions to remedy historical deficiencies by this
summer but it is still not clear whether the Christie Administration has
honored those commitments. For example, the state recently posted a
plan to control Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp) outbreaks from oysters (a
small part of the deficiencies tagged by FDA) but the plan does not
address the "inadequate enforcement staff" and other resource issues
raised by FDA. Oddly, the state Vp plan is backdated to May 2010 yet it
appears to have been first created on June 4th.

"Faced with
heightened scrutiny, the state claims that it has cobbled together
ameliorative measures, such as borrowing state police patrol boats, but
it remains to be seen if the state has a long-term plan that will pass
federal muster," added Wolfe. "How long will FDA allow New Jersey to
flout federal food safety requirements?"

Look at the FDA compliance criteria

Read the FDA assessment and warning letter to New Jersey

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.