The unprecedented campaign that President Obama--and White House staff--and players from the New Orleans Saints--have engaged in to encourage Americans to eat Gulf seafood continued Monday. This time, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, took the lead role as Gulf seafood cheerleader during a White House livechat about food safety issues. But the administration has a long way to go to convince Americans that Gulf seafood is safe in the aftermath of th BP oil spill, if the responses on the White House Facebook page are any indication.
Lubchenco's livechat was timed as a follow-up to the First Family's weekend tourism/seafood promotion trip to Panama City Beach, Florida, and also coincided with the opening day of the Fall white shrimp season in Louisiana. (Above, Lubchenco during the livechat, with Katelyn Sabochik from White House New Media)
Lubchenco's economic jingoism; urges citizen-to-citizen Gulf seafood promotion campaign
Lubchenco took 19 questions in 29 minutes, attempting to cover issues ranging from how seafood is tested to the impact of the oil on marine habitats and wildlife. She managed to work in the fact that Gulf shrimp was served at the President's 49th birthday barbecue at the White House on Aug. 8, and mentioned the 30-foot long Gulf seafood Po'Boy created at the White House on August 9. Lubchenco also included a nice bit of Gulf Coast economic jingoism in her chat--which was so important that she actually read it from a paper sitting on the table in front of her.
"Supporting seafood that comes from US waters is one thing that we can do to support our economy and the high environmental and safety standards that our fishermen meet," Lubchenco read/said. "You can be sure that NOAA's seafood safety testing program is rigorous and reliable and we're taking extraordinary steps to assure a high level of confidence in the seafood. Eat Gulf seafood!"
NOAA is housed in the Department of Commerce, and part of Lubchenco's mission is to boost economic opportunity for water-based businesses. She also suggested that citizens engage in the same kind of Gulf seafood campaign that the White House has started.
"Talk to friends and family about the importance of buying Gulf seafood, the importance of supporting the Gulf," Lubchenko said. "If you feel that it's safe, and you tell your friends and family that, it's important. That helps quite a bit."
One important announcement: Lubchenco said that testing seafood would continue even in re-opened Gulf waters that are declared oil-free.
"We're not going anywhere," Lubchenco said, echoing President Obama's pledge on Saturday, as he spoke from Panama City Beach.
Responses on the White House Facebook page
Clearly, the pledge that federal officials--and the President--are "not going anywhere" is important, because many citizens are dubious about the safety of Gulf seafood, despite the Pennsylvania Avenue Push. The comments during the livechat on the White House Facebook page are telling. Here's a selection, and spelling has not been corrected:
LaShawn Miller: With oil, residual elements & chemical disperant released into the gulf on such a mass level, eating that seafood posts SUCH an obvious risk to our bodies
Andre Jones: I LOVE SEAFOOD AND IT SCARES ME TO EAT IT NOW
Bradley Werner: Yeah... No seafood from gulf fishing for a long time..... Just bought some Alaskan salmon at trader joes:)
Regina Adams Ferugson: I will not eat any sea food for at least ten years. I don't trust one word that comes out of President Obama's mouth
Mary Nester Allard: Will not be eating seafood for quite some time. Corexit? That didn't just disappear and neither did the oil
David Phillips: the Gulf and anything that comes out of it for a very long time is F*cked. The dispersent just made the oil hard to capture, see and get sued over. It didn't go away which means the fishies and shrimps and oysters are gulping it down 24/7. The government ACTUALLY sent a guy down to sniff the seafood to see if he could "smell" any oil as a form of consumer protection. WTF???
Steve Boggio: How can we start fishing these gulf stocks that may not be able to support a sustainable harvest due to oil damage to life cycles?
Michael Goldston: Lubenchenco needs to go! She is an apologist for BP and Big Oil, and downplays the impact of the Gulf oil spill at every opportunity.
Cory Olson-Bressette: Between the spill itself and the toxins used to clean up the spill, how can the seafood be safe to eat?
Above, Lubchenco during a White House press briefing about the oil spill; National Incident Commander Thad Allen is behind her.
The White House Gulf seafood safety page is here. The re-opening of shrimp season in Louisiana has caused controversy; there are some shrimpers who believe that harvesting just a month after oil stopped gushing from the BP well is premature. It's a feeling shared by various groups of commercial fisherfolk across the Gulf states, who have not only protested the re-opening of federal waters, but also criticized the White House's campaign, too, amidst concerns that Gulf seafood is not as safe as federal officials claim. Critics have pointed to the dumping of 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersant into Gulf waters to break up the spill as a food safety issue, too.
Background: The President's fifth visit to the Gulf
During his press conference in Panama City Beach, Florida on Saturday, President Obama announced that he had met in the morning with some Gulf fisherfolk and seafood restaurateurs, and given his assurances that seafood testing would continue.
"Their livelihoods, not to mention the health of the people across this country, obviously depends on making sure that folks can trust the seafood coming from the Gulf, trust that it's safe, as it always has been," President Obama said. The press conference:
"We are all over that and monitoring that carefully each and every day, hopefully continuing to deliver good news as the days go on," the President said about seafood safety, as he noted that the New Orleans Saints were in the White House last week, lauding Gulf shrimp--and handing it out to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and reporters.
"When the New Orleans Saints came up, we had a couple of po'boys. So right now we're feeling pretty good," President Obama said.
Posts about the President and First Lady's Aug. 14 & 15 visit to Panama City Beach, Florida, are linked in this post.
Related: The White House Gulf seafood campaign officially started on Sunday, August 8, when senior energy and climate adviser Carol Browner announced on national television that Gulf shrimp was being served at President Obama's belated 49th birthday barbecue. It was the only menu detail announced to the public. It continued with the White House releasing a video of the New Orleans Saints in the White House kitchen after they'd taken a star-turn in the press briefing room on Monday, Gulf shrimp in hand, accompanied by Sam Kass. The President also lauded Gulf seafood during his remarks as he honored the Saints for their Super Bowl 2009 win. On Tuesday, deputy press secretary Bill Burton announced that the President and First Lady will be eating seafood when they visit Panama City Beach (Update: Mission accomplished). Fisherfolk and conservationists in Louisiana have rebuked the White House for claiming Gulf seafood is safe; they're protesting. The White House seafood campaign gets a send-up here.
From June 7, a video of President Obama meeting with shrimpers and local citizens to discuss reopening Gulf waters to fishing (CNN):
*Top two videos/White House; bottom from CNN