Farmers want turtle ban lifted

Published 2:15 am Monday, April 19, 2010

VIDALIA — For years, Eddie Jolly has maintained that a baby turtle swimming in a bowl isn’t a threat.

And now, the federal courts are asking the Food and Drug Administration to consider lifting guidelines that have long treated the turtles as dangerous.

The sale of turtle eggs and pet turtles smaller than four inches in diameter has been illegal in the United States since 1975. The ban was initially put in place because of concerns about salmonella, which turtles can carry.

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Louisiana’s Western District Court recently ruled that the FDA has not adequately addressed a petition that the Independent Turtle Farmers of Louisiana filed questioning the ban.

Jolly, the president of the ITFL, said the ruling means the FDA will have to look at science the turtle-farming industry has developed over the last 35 years.

“Our science through the last 35 years have proven three things,” Jolly said. “We can produce a salmonella free turtle, that turtle will stay salmonella free if it is not re-infected by humans and we have science to keep the water clean — we have chemicals to put in the water where if you accidentally put salmonella in the water where the turtle resides, it would kill that salmonella.”

One way the turtle farmers did that was with a study conducted by Louisiana State University to prove that their turtles would not recolonize salmonella.

“(The turtle) can’t create salmonella by itself,” Jolly said. “LSU proved that with a 14-month experiment holding 40 turtles in four different tanks.”

And while turtle farmers have been willing to work with the standards to get the ban lifted, Jolly said they’re the only niche in the pet industry that has to deal with this kind of regulation, which includes having to prove that their animals are infection free before they can be sold anywhere else in the world even as the total ban stands at home.

“If you have someone who raises iguanas, there are zero regulations on that iguana, even though a salmonella-infected iguana would have 400 times the salmonella an infected turtle would,” he said.

But thanks to more than three decades of research and development, Jolly said that turtle farmers are confident that their pets are safe.

“The salmonella just won’t be there,” he said. “No other pet in the industry, from a rat to a cat to a pocket rodent can say that.”

And because of that, Jolly said it’s time for the ban to be lifted.

“They are going to have to work with us, recognize our science, which is better than any pet on the market today and allow us to sell our turtles,” he said.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu — who represents a state with 80 turtle farms — has in the past co-sponsored and authored legislation to try to lift the ban.

“The ban on domestic baby turtle sales was implemented over 30 years ago,” Landrieu said in a statement. “Since then, technological advancements have made it possible to safely and easily treat pet baby turtles for salmonella. It is time for the FDA to begin working with the industry to re-open the market here in the United States and create rules for the responsible sale of baby turtles.”