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article imageUS military to buy Gulf of Mexico seafood as testing continues

By Lynn Herrmann     Feb 8, 2011 in Food
Washington - The US military will begin purchasing Gulf of Mexico seafood and offering it at 72 base commissaries along the East Coast, replacing previously imported seafood and giving a boost to the ailing seafood industry along the Gulf coast.
After taking a severe financial blow resulting from BP’s Deepwater Horizon debacle in the Gulf last year, seafood sales from the region will receive a boost from the Defense Department’s Defense Commissary Agency (DeCa). According to Army Times, DeCa sells grocery supplies to the industry which includes military personnel, reservists, and military retirees and their families, at a cost plus 5 percent surcharge.
Milt Ackerman is president of Military Solutions Inc., the commissary supplier of ten seafood products including oysters, crab cakes, fish, shrimp and packaged Cajun products like jambalaya and shrimp etouffee. The move comes in conjunction with first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” health campaign announced last year.
“What fits in with that better than seafood?” Ackerman asked, according to the Washington Post.
The new commissary campaign begins on Tuesday at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, located just outside New Orleans, La., a commissary granting privileges to some 20,000 people in the area.
DeCa spokesman Kevin Robinson said the effort is seen as a chance to promote Gulf seafood and broaden choices for commissary customers. An initial shipment of 10,000 pounds of Gulf seafood will be shipped to the commissaries.
“Compared to our existing customers, that is on the lower end,” Ketchum said. “But we see it taking off quickly. They could certainly become one of our biggest customers,” he added, according to the Army Times report.
The military commissary chain is ranked by Progressive Grocer magazine as the nation’s 17th largest grocery chain. Initially, 72 of the country’s 249 commissaries have agreed to stock Gulf seafood, with more anticipated to join the program. Prior to this move, most seafood supplied to commissaries was imported.
“That’s true of all the grocery industry, but now our government is stepping up and saying they will use domestic product,” Ketchum continued, Army Times reported.
The new campaign comes at a time when many questions remain unanswered over Gulf seafood health risks and as the pros and cons of Gulf seafood consumption continue to emerge.
Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board (LSPMB) lists the four phases of seafood testing being used to determine its safety, and according to its website, an
“expert sensory panel -- the first gatekeeper -- is comprised of NOAA and FDA employees who were identified for their ability to detect odors and who have decades of experience in seafood inspection.”
Steve Wilson, NOAA’s Seafood Inspection Program chief quality inspector, said: “Sensory testing is about making sure that contaminated seafood does not make it to the market. We have evidence that sensory testing can detect oil at one part per billion (ppb), which is well below the level of concern,” according to LSPMB.
Those test results have done little to alleviate the fears of consumers, as a recent national marketing survey commissioned by LSPMB has found more than 70 percent of consumers have expressed concern over Gulf seafood safety, and as a result, 23 percent have reduced their consumption of Gulf seafood since the BP oil spill.
Scientists continue their off-shore testing of the Gulf’s waters in the region of BP’s Macondo well blowout and that testing continues to provide evidence that all is not well in the Gulf’s waters and reason for alarm should be a priority for all parties involved, including consumers of Gulf seafood.
The Nation reported in January on a recent Weatherbird II expedition to the Gulf of Mexico. Before departing on that expedition, John Paul, a professor of biological oceanography spoke with Naomi Klein about previous test results on healthy bacteria introduced to water samples taken from the Gulf last August. “You may be genetically altering populations of fish, or zooplankton, or shrimp, or commercially important organisms... Is the turtle population going to have more tumors on them? We really don't know. And it'll take three to five years to actually get a handle on that,” Paul said, according to The Nation.
The Nation also reports that John Lamkin, an NOAA fisheries biologist has stated that “any larvae that came into contact with the oil doesn’t have a chance.”
Among the significant die-offs in the Gulf since the spill occurred are ancient sea fan colonies along with other coral at a depth of 1,400 meters, all covered in a brown sludge. The Nation reported that Charles Fisher, a Penn State biologist, stated nearly all the coral was “dead or in the process of dying.”
It remains to be seen how BP’s disaster in the Gulf will eventually play out as the carnage works its way through the food chain.
Ackerman, his company dependent on the commissaries’ commitment to offering Gulf seafood, commented on the public’s concern over seafood safety, said in the Army Times report: “We believe that will fade quickly,”
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