HC Deb 08 July 2003 vol 408 c770W
Chris Grayling

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the Food Standards Agency decision to restrict the operations of the cockle industry. [122195]

Miss Melanie Johnson

The Food Standards Agency (FSA)?s monitoring programme to detect marine biotoxins in shellfish, including cockles, exists to protect public health. The toxins which are tested have the potential to cause illness, which in some cases may be serious or life-threatening. The DSP test is approved as the standard reference method and is widely used in Europe.

Temporary Prohibition Orders (TPOs), are placed on beds where tests for shellfish biotoxins are positive. Affected areas remain closed until two consecutive negative test results taken a week apart are observed.

Atypical results in tests for DSP have been observed in some samples of cockles and mussels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 2001. The FSA has put in place a programme of research work to investigate the cause of the atypical response to the DSP test and to assess its implications for human health. In the meantime, on the basis that the affected shellfish produce neurological symptoms that lead to death in mice within a few minutes, the FSA considers that the shellfish could be harmful and recommends the placing of TPOs on the affected beds in line with standard practice for known biotoxins. The FSA is keeping this policy under review and will use findings from the research work to determine whether its existing policy should be maintained. It expects most of the research to be completed later this summer.

The majority of harvesting areas are open most of the time. In order to reduce the impact of the temporary cockle-bed closures on fishermen, while still protecting public health, the FSA has divided harvesting areas into zones, so that harvesting can continue from beds where tests results are negative.

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