The FDA just announced plans to treat all Gulf Coast oysters harvested in warm months to irradiation ... and the Gulf Coast oyster community is in an uproar. Raw oysters have been a part of Gulf Coast culture for hundreds of years, and opponents to the government's plan launched an online petition right away called Save the Gulf Coast Oyster Industry. (Also check out Raw Oyster blog, which covers the issue.) Opponents to irradiation argue that irradiation itself poses potential risks, and there are so few illnesses and deaths (less than 20 annually, and those are people with already compromised immune systems) from oyster bacteria that the FDA's measures are unnecessarily extreme and could destroy a local and cultural industry. "Hundreds more [people] die each year choking on hot dogs, thousands more die from eating tainted vegetables and meat," the petition notes. "The dangers of irradiated foods are just beginning to be studied and there are some health risks for workers at irradiation/processing facilities."
I've just signed the petition because I recently visited Southern Louisiana and New Orleans, and my biggest culinary surprise were the incredible raw oysters at P&J Oyster Company in New Orlean's French Quarter. Briny and astoundingly fresh, this zinc-rich and eco-friendly seafood was a revelation of pure taste and perfect texture -- which I did not expect. (That's me in the photo at right.) I understand that the government is worried about food safety, but making the raw oyster its target just doesn't make sense to me; people who might be at risk simply don't have to eat them. If you agree that irradiation is overkill for oysters, sign the petition.