Apr 26, 2010 1:22 PM by Melissa Canone
ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - The government must reconsider its ban on
selling small turtles, a federal district judge has ruled.
"This is a firefight this time," said Eddie Jolly, president
of the Independent Turtle Farmers of Louisiana. "This has got
teeth. We're going to win this one."
Judge Dee D. Drell ruled March 30 that the Food and Drug
Administration failed to adequately consider arguments made in 2006
to end the ban on selling turtles with shells less than 4 inches
Such sales have been banned since 1975, because turtles can
Drell found that the FDA failed to pay enough attention to
several arguments. One is that larger turtles and other pets that
carry salmonella can legally be sold in the United States. Another
is that new products, such as antibacterial soap, can reduce the
Farmers also contend that the FDA has set them an impossible
scientific demand: proof that they can produce completely
salmonella-free turtles and that those turtles will never be
About 80 farmers in Louisiana sell 4 million turtles a year,
mostly to China and Europe because of the U.S. ban.
"When it was first put into place, turtles were being caught
out of streams, lakes, roadways and being sold in pet stores,"
Jolly said. "There were problems with salmonella in children and
elderly people. Since then, with the evolution of science of
farm-raised turtles, it's not even the same world."
But the FDA, he said, "has never recognized our science.
They've kept a black mark on our names for 35 years."
His group contends that treating turtle eggs with chlorine
significantly cuts the chanace that the hatchlings will carry
A sampling of more than 67 million turtles raised in Louisiana
from 1996-2005 by Southern Diagnostic Laboratory in Gilbert found
98.9 percent to be salmonella-free, he said.
The FDA and other advocates of the ban say small turtles still
pose a health risk.
A salmonella outbreak in 2007-08 sicked 107 people, most of them
children, in 34 states; one-third of the patients had to be
hospitalized. Patients included girls who swam with pet turtles in
a backyard pool and younger children who kissed turtles or put
small turtles into their mouths.
Turtle farmers contend that turtles carrying salmonella were
caught in the wild or obtained illegally from non-treated
populations, and comparing them with turtles raised by farmers who
treat their stock is unfair.
Turtle farmers, many of whom are in Catahoula and Concordia
parishes, have been producing less and less stock since China began
domestic turtle farms a few years ago.
Louisiana produced 15 million turtles a year at the business's
peak, Jolly said. But a turtle that once sold for $2 or more in
China now sells for 30 cents or less, he said.
"If you sell to China, it's like you worked all year for almost
nothing," said Jolly. He said he thinks farmers could sell turtles
at home for $2 to $3, the price they get in Europe.
George "Sonny" White, who farms turtles near Jonesville, said,
"You're looking at economic growth in an area as poverty stricken
as it can be."