Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Such A Tangled Web We Weave - More About "Safe Harbor Seafood Certification"

We posted a news story on Monday, December 13, 2010 titled "Micro Analytical Systems, Inc. Launches Safe Harbor, a Comprehensive, Real-Time Seafood Certification Process in Las Vegas".  (

How exciting, right?  Given the problems and disparity between what the FDA and private attorney Stuart Smith and independent groups like the Gulf Coast Barefoot Doctors who have done testing on various types of seafood, using independent, certified laboratories, and have shown that at best, the government has been disingenuous with the American people, especially those who live in the impact Gulf States, whose consumption rates are much higher than the average cited for the general population.

The press release from Micro Analytical Systems is timely, given due consideration to the incredible threat to the lives, livelihoods and health of the fisherman, families, businesses and people who rely on the Gulf seafood as a economical, ecological, environmental, financial and personal portion of their lives.  Fisherman themselves have publicly taken a stand that they will NOT sell what they believe are tainted seafood, from shrimp to red snapper.

The press release states,

"-- The BP oil spill, tainted seafood imports, elevated mercury levels and limited government oversight are significant concerns on the growing list of threats to seafood safety. These threats represent an unprecedented challenge to the American seafood industry. In response, Micro Analytical Systems, Inc. (MASI) has greatly expanded its Safe Harbor Certification program to include real-time, low cost screening for select pathogens and histamines in addition to its established mercury testing certification program. MASI is partnering with Supreme Lobster and Seafood Company, one of the top 10 seafood distributors in the United States, in launching this highly sophisticated and independent seafood testing program in Las Vegas with the goal of making Las Vegas the safest city on the planet for seafood. MASI plans to expand Safe Harbor Certification nationwide in the coming months."

At least on one occasion thus far, the FDA and NOAA have had to rescind on the opening of Gulf fishing areas when it was discovered that royal red shrimp were pulled, and nets loaded with tarballs, inhibiting the ability to fish, farm, or sell royal red, and forcing the closure of the predictably premature decisions by the government to open the waters long before questions have been properly researched, or answers properly and scientifically proven - not only for what is in the best interests of consumers, but an entire economy and institution for many of the multi-generational families who rely on the seafood as a diet staple at their tables daily.

 At first glance, a double-edged sword comes to mind. Yes, the BP Oil (spill) Disaster has brought seafood safety and oversight to the spotlight, and government oversight has, at best, been a dismal reality to many Americans that in truth, the U.S. government has failed miserably to not only provide adequate and accurate oversight, but testing procedures such as the "sniff test" have made the EPA and the FDA both laughing stocks in the eyes of many well-seasoned fisherman, and, I'm sure, the world.

Pointing their finger at the failure of government is a sure fire way to get converts and the disgruntled to rally the call for such a "Safe Harbor Seafood Certification" program, and even though one may initially question how such an organization can effectively operate in Las Vegas, NV, it's worth the time to at least give credit where credit is due.  Someone has developed a solution, and perhaps this may be a turning point for assuring safe seafood testing that will run miles ahead of the laughable techniques provided thus far by the U.S. Government officials tasked with ensuring such an endeavor.

The press release further states, "Safe Harbor Certification is the most comprehensive independent seafood validation program ever created to support the seafood industry. The Safe Harbor seal is the highest assurance to consumers, retailers and restaurateurs that seafood has been tested and certified to meet defined standards for mercury concentration, select pathogens and histamines," said Micro Analytical Systems, Inc. (MASI) CEO, Malcolm Wittenberg. "Safe Harbor is seafood with confidence."

A further investigation into Micro Analytical Systems, Inc. (MASI), the company who put out the press release shows anything BUT confidence or ability to handle something as important, especially in light of what has occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, and the admired stand fisherman have taken to protect consumers at the cost of their own livelihoods.

Micro Analytical Systems, Inc. (MASI) is owned by Malcolm Wittenberg. That would be Malcolm B. Wittenberg. Mr. Wittenberg has an interesting background that shows that there should be anything BUT trust assigned to statements he makes, especially one as important as the safety of seafood in times of disaster.

Mr. Wittenberg has been a published blogger on Huffington Post internet media blog (  As you can see, he's written quite a few pieces on his opinions supporting the need for safer methods of measuring the levels of contaminates and dangers that exist in seafood.  He's also quick to be critical of the government and the methods by which testing has been handled for decades within the US government agencies.  "Consumer Confidence" he is quick to quote from a University of Michigan study shows that "Responses from 1,076 individuals show that 89 percent of respondents were at least somewhat concerned about the effect of the spill on the safety of seafood from the Gulf, and 50 percent said they were "extremely concerned." Moreover, out of the 54 percent of respondents that reported some impact to their seafood consumption habits, 44 percent of that group said they would only eat seafood that they knew did not come from the Gulf. Even more importantly, another 31 percent said they would eat less seafood no matter what its origin."   (

Social, moral, economical, ethical - fancy words laced with fear.  Fear that helps to perpetuate the need for a source of independent certification.  Just the type Mr. Wittenberg offers through "Safe Harbor". Or as Mr. Wittenberg himself says, "Now more than ever it's of the utmost importance that the private sector take tangible steps to help boost consumer confidence in seafood, particularly Gulf seafood."

Let's take a look at Mr. Wittenberg's background to see how and what qualifies him to tout the credentials necessary to make such broad-based statements in favor of certification, and in the same breath, such condemning statements regarding the US Government, shall we?

Huffington Post states:  Wittenberg has a degree in chemical engineering and has been a practicing intellectual property attorney for almost 40 years.

Chemical engineer, practicing intellectual property attorney, years of face value, acceptable.  No real fishing industry experience, at least none noted.  Makes one wonder, what truly qualifies him.  Must be the years he worked as a chemical engineer.  Yes.  That must be it!

A July 2009 online article in which Mr. Wittenberg is interviewed shows he's had extensive involvement following mercury levels in fish.  He's made his way on the road to Washington to discuss his concerns and methods, meeting with the FDA and administration officials from the George W. Bush and the current Obama presidencies:

I personally met with the FDA. At the time I met with them — this was during the Bush administration — they showed no interest in mercury testing, even when we [told] them that importers know how to circumvent the limited testing the FDA is doing. They claim the FDA’s obligation is to message the public — to tell the public what it is they should be doing or not doing, principally that there are certain high-risk fish that certain segments of the population should stay away from. Now the FDA is talking about saying less and less about the mercury issue [because] they say it is harming seafood consumption and the benefits of [eating] seafood outweigh the risks from mercury. I’m encouraged by the current administration. [President] Obama has shown interest in the mercury issue in the past when he was in the Illinois legislature. And there seems to be a more proactive approach under this administration than there was in the last. But it’s hard for me to gauge.

Wittenberg seems well versed in the seafood mercury concerns, stating both the pro's and con's and citing his opinions quickly on the impressions of administrations response or concerns to the need for additional research.  One can only imagine how excited he must have been to learn about the controversy surrounding Gulf seafood, and the impact of the dispersant and oil on the safety of the marketplace.

But just about everyone agrees that the mercury-in-fish debate is not dissipating anytime soon. At the forefront of the issue is Mal Wittenberg, CEO of Micro Analytical Systems (MASI) in San Rafael, Calif. A few years ago, he and his colleagues developed technology and equipment that measures the level of mercury found in fish in a timely and cost-effective manner and introduced the Safe Harbor mercury-testing program and accompanying label.

Let's go back in time to December 2001, when Wittenberg was an attorney - the typed referenced in his credentials on Huffington Post, "a practicing intellectual property attorney for almost 40 years."

The headlines read, "Lawyer sentenced for insider trading"

A well-respected San Francisco attorney was sentenced to three years' probation yesterday for insider trading.

Malcolm Wittenberg, 55, the former head of Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May's patent practice, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco to serve a month at a halfway house and three months of home detention under electronic monitoring.

The judge also levied a $10,000 fine and ordered Wittenberg to explain his crime in speeches to 300 attorneys within the next year.

Could it be? Could our seafood certification hero Mr. Malcolm (Malc) Wittenberg be one and the same as this practicing attorney, cited as having a "stellar life"?

The attorney Wittenberg was charged with the following:

Wittenberg bought 2,000 shares of Forte Software Inc.of Oakland on two separate occasions after he was contacted by a client regarding an impending merger between Forte and Sun Microsystems Inc.of Palo Alto.

On Aug. 16, 1999, two days after Sun entered into a confidential agreement to acquire Forte, Wittenberg was told of the merger by a Forte attorney and asked to provide information regarding Forte's patents to help in the merger.

 Later that day, Wittenberg bought 1,000 shares of Forte stock at a price of $13.50 a share. He bought another 1,000 shares -- at a price of $14.75 per share -- a few days later, after reviewing Forte patent files with a Forte attorney, the indictment said.

 The merger was announced publicly in October 1999, at which time Wittenberg's 2,000 shares of Forte were converted into 600 shares of Sun. He sold the Sun shares soon afterward, earning a $14,000 profit.

 "Wittenberg violated his client's trust and, in doing so, behaved as many people unfortunately assume lawyers do on a regular basis," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Hemann wrote in his sentencing memorandum.

Sun Microsystems, insider trading, guilty verdict, disbarment? 

Attorney Wittenberg was found guilty and charged as follows:

 A well-respected San Francisco attorney was sentenced to three years' probation yesterday for insider trading.

Malcolm Wittenberg, 55, the former head of Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May's patent practice, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco to serve a month at a halfway house and three months of home detention under electronic monitoring.

The judge also levied a $10,000 fine and ordered Wittenberg to explain his crime in speeches to 300 attorneys within the next year.

Fortunately, or unfortunately if you're Malcolm Wittenberg, the answer to whether or not this could possibly be the same Malcolm Wittenberg who now wants to garner the trust of not only the United States and the Gulf region, but the WORLD through his "Safe Harbor Seafood Certification" business, is in fact and indeed, the SAME Malcolm Wittenberg charged and found guilty of these crimes.

Mr. Wittenberg has a Facebook page. (  You may want to stop by, especially if you're a fisherman in the Gulf, and let him know how you feel about his credentials, or lack thereof of something so important to the future of the entire Gulf region.

Do we really want individuals whose backgrounds and activities qualify them in the same pool as the US Government officials that they accuse?  Is there a method by which truly independent seafood testing can be implemented by people who have the moral and ethical turpitude to uphold the highest level of standards and testing, as well as having the ability to tell the TRUTH?

Using the seafood contamination issue in the Gulf as a method by which one can further master the art of manipulation and greed is as cruel a joke as the impact the BP Oil Disaster has played on the fisherman and families who call the Gulf of Mexico home.  To feed the flames of fear in the eyes of the consumers knowing that you stand to profit from the protocols you wish to establish to "ease" such fears is as reprehensible as your insider trading background Mr. Wittenberg.

You owe the Gulf States a huge apology.  And they, as well as the American people, deserve MUCH more than what your company can offer to the future of this industry.



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