A Federal District Court Judge has ordered that the FDA must reconsider its ban on selling small turtles, according to this AP report.  Sales of turtles with shells less than 4 inches long have been banned by the FDA since 1975.   The turtles have reportedly been connected to outbreaks of Salmonella

Turtle farmers are fighting the ban, and apparently feel good about there chances:

"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."

The judge ruled that FDA did not give enough consideration to several arguments, such as that "larger turtles and other pets that carry salmonella can legally be sold in the United States."  Also, turtle farmers argue that "new products, such as antibacterial soap, can reduce the risk."

Turtle farmers point to a study showing that:  "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."

I am not sure this study really helps the farmers.  By my quick and dirty math, that means that roughly 750,000 turtles in the study were NOT Salmonella free.    That’s a lot of potential illness.   And the risk of illness is precisely what the FDA and other health advocates point to in response.   For example, a Salmonella outbreak in 2007-08 sickened 107 people, most of them children, in 34 states; one-third of the patients had to be hospitalized.

Earlier this week, we reported here on the multi-state outbreak of Salmonella linked to pet turtles.   107 people were sickened in the outbreak, primarily children.   A report on the outbreak was published this week in the medical journal "Pediatrics."   Here is a link to the abstract of the article.   

The basics of the outbreak:

We identified 107 patients with outbreak-strain infections. The median patient age was 7 years; 33% were hospitalized. Forty-seven (60%) of 78 patients interviewed reported exposure to turtles during the week before illness; 41 (87%) were small turtles, and 16 (34%) were purchased in a retail pet store.

They may seem harmless and look cute, but juvenile turtles carry the risk of Salmonella transmission.  Recently, police in Baltimore seized dozens of tiny turtles from vendors who were selling the animals illegally.  The sale of turtles with shells under 4 inches in length has been illegal since 1975.   According to the CDC,

This size was chosen because small children are more likely to treat smaller turtles as toys and put them in their mouths. The ban by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has prevented an estimated 100,000 cases of salmonellosis each year in children. Despite this ban, such turtles are available from pet stores, flea markets, street vendors, and online stores.

The CDC has also issued a report  of a  2007-2008  outbreak of Salmonella linked to turtles.