Food Law News - UK - 2002

FSA News Item, 13 December 2002

SHELLFISH - Food Standards Agency's Board backs action to protect consumers from cockle toxin

The Board of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) yesterday (12th December 2002) agreed that the Agency should continue its precautionary approach to protecting consumers from the potential risks of a unknown toxin that is being found in cockles from beds in the Burry Inlet, Gower. The possible effects of this toxin on humans are not yet fully understood, but in mice it causes neurological symptoms that lead to death within a few minutes. This suggests that this toxin could be harmful to humans.

When these toxins are found during testing, the beds are closed by local authorities on a precautionary basis to protect public health until the tests prove clear.

Currently, it has not been possible to identify the toxin, even though the Agency has consulted widely with international scientists, including a leading world expert from Japan.

European Union (EU) law requires testing of cockle beds for a number of toxins, one of which can cause diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP). Intermittent testing for DSP over the last 18 months has found unusual positive results, known as atypical DSP results.

Ann Hemingway, the newly appointed interim Deputy Chair of the FSA and the Chair of the Agency's Advisory Committee for Wales, said:
'The Agency must protect public health. This toxin could be harmful to people and that may not be apparent for many years. We've carefully considered the tests and have no doubts about the methodology used by our laboratories.'

The FSA has tried to reduce the impact of the closure of cockle beds on fishermen, while still protecting public health, by dividing up fishing areas into zones and lifting the ban on those zones where further tests proved negative.

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