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Where is the NJ Shellfish Action Plan Due to FDA Today?

[Update: As I suspected, DEP has not submitted the required Action Plan or addressed FDA concerns. We’ll be looking to FDA to look out for shellfish food safety in NJ. See NJNewsroom story by Joe Tyrrell:  New Jersey DEP feels it’s done enough to avoid commercial shellfishing ban] – this DEP statement inadvertently portrays the Christie race to the bottom:

“We have not officially heard back from the FDA, but we feel they will be happy because we have taken steps to meet their minimum request,” said DEP spokesman Lawrence Ragonese.

Beyond increasing commercial patrols, New Jersey has not yet addressed other concerns about lax state oversight of the industry. In a June 2 letter to DEP Commissioner Robert Martin, an FDA official also questioned the state’s controls of discharges of human waste from shellfish vessels.

“Human waste discharged from shellfish harvest has led to serious illness outbreaks in the past,” wrote Melinda Plaisier, an FDA regional director.

The FDA’s 2009 evaluation of the DEP program also cited a 30 percent drop in the amount of water testing, and health inspections of conditions at shellfish processing facilities and dealers.]

In a June 2 letter, the FDA threatened to shut down NJ’s shellfish industry due to deficiencies in the NJ monitoring and enforcement programs at DEP and DHSS.

FDA mandated that the NJ DEP and Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) submit “Action Plans” to remedy deficiencies in NJ’s Shellfish Sanitation Program. That program protects the public from being sickened by contaminated oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops.

Those plans are due today.

DEP Commissioner Martin has claimed that NJ is “in compliance” with FDA requirements (see July 21 NJN interview). Martin claimed he “cobbled togethera plan, by transferring inspectors and borrowing patrol boats from the State Police.

Let’s hope that the reporters covering this story look behind those claims (some questions: what boats? Are they seaworthy and meet FDA concerns? What was State Police doing with those boats? Given recent boating accidents and high summer traffic, don’t State Marine Police need all the patrol boat they can get? Are DEP staff trained? Are they patrolling waters in compliance with FDA patrol requirements?).

Let’s hope reporters ask DEP and DHSS to produce the Action Plans, and ask FDA for the facts supporting the FDA review of NJ’s “Action Plans”. As they should know, the FDA – not Bob Martin – determines if NJ is in compliance with FDA requirements.

Below are links to all the information the public and journalists need to do that. See the specific FDA deficiencies and compliance requirements.

Press Release

For Immediate Release: Monday, August 2, 2010

Contact: 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

Trenton – 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 facilities.

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.

Both 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


See the new state Vp Management Plan


New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability

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