THE HEART OF THE MATTER
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA) 

Week: 527.1 Guest: Dr. Quetin Whire, Prof. Marine Biology, Jacksonville University Topic: Seafood Disease, contaminant and safety - One Part Host: Steve Girard Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: When you think about the oceans and bays as huge fields where some of our crops come from...it seems we're putting a lot of strange things in those fields...chemicals and waste products that are having an effect on the harvest of seafood....how much we get, how it tastes, and how healthy it is for us to eat. We're with Dr. Quentin White, Professor of Marine Biology at Jacksonville University in Florida....

WHITE: The biggest problem we seem to face is increasing pressure on our marine resources. In many cases, its not so much a problem of the fertilizers, the herbicides and pesticides which are part of the problem, but more the human waste that gets into the environment...something we call fecal coloforms, which are bacteria that grow in the intestines of man, to get into our water supply, and thereby contaminate the food we eat. So, when people want to eat things like raw oysters, they may in fact be eating pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and things like that.

NEMA: Are certain types of seafood more affected by the pollution problem....

WHITE: The things that sort of raise the initial problems are things like oysters and an oyster that's living in a contaminated environment has the potential, then, of having things like cholera, salmonella which may in turn lead to dysentery, diarrhea, and all those fun things we sort of associate in the general term, we talk about food poisoning. And so, when you start eating raw seafood, then you have a bigger problem than if its cooked. But even if its cooked, particularly some fish, I'll say the top level predators, have a higher concentration of pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, things that we now know are sort of bad for us.

NEMA: How can we take steps to feel comfortable our seafood has been handled properly?

WHITE: Talk to your supplier...you've got to figure out where your fish and shellfish are coming from. You would also like for that oyster not to be traveling for very long, if for instance, it gets collected in Louisiana, or even parts of Florida, you've got to have a great deal of confidence that the supplier has iced the product down, it stayed cold and they've met all the health requirements as they moved up there. I personally don't have that confidence anymore. If you buy something that's frozen, then you can feel pretty confident that they have taken it and packaged it , processed it and frozen it...if you're buying fresh fish, fresh fish should not smell fishy, it should have sort of a nice, ocean smell to it, but not a fishy smell to it.

NEMA: Are things getting better in our waterways, can we look forward to having good, healthy seafood in the future....

WHITE: I'm an optimist. For one thing, we're doing a lot more with aquaculture, and mariculture, a lot of things you eat in seafood restaurants and get in canned materials these days is done that way. We're also beginning to recognize man's long term impact on the marine environment. As we've tightened up our environmental regulations and reduced our impact, then, over time we're starting to see a gradual improvement. As more and more people move into certain areas, there's more pressure, we're able to sort of hold our own, and hope that down the road, we can actually improve things.

NEMA: Dr. White also helped me remember the adage about when to buy oysters...only in months with "R" ..which pretty much excludes the summer months, when the reproductive cycle is at its peak. I'm Steve Girard.