Food Law News - UK - 2004

FSA Consultation Letter, 4 August 2004

SHELLFISH - Proposals to improve classification arrangements for designated shellfish harvesting areas in England and Wales

This consultation seeks views and comments on the paper, which sets out proposals to improve the classification arrangements for designated shellfish harvesting areas in England and Wales. Responses are requested by: 27 October 2004

Consultation details

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for ensuring that shellfish harvesting areas are monitored and classified according to European legislation. While the current system has been in place for a number of years and satisfies all legal requirements, the Agency carried out a public review in October 2002 to consider if arrangements could be improved in England and Wales. The responses to the review indicated general support for the introduction of a Long Term Classification (LTC) system for shellfish harvesting areas. Requests were also made for the inclusion of an ‘action state’ to facilitate action following test results exceeding the E. coli classification limits.

The main focus of this consultation paper is the Long Term Classification proposals (LTC) which have been developed in response to the comments from the 2002 review exercise, but the other matters covered by the review are also discussed. The proposals seek to improve the classification arrangements in a way which is practical, enforceable, legally acceptable, and which delivers improved public health protection. The proposals are being issued for a three month consultation period which will end in October 2004 and responses will be used to inform implementation decisions.

The proposals have been drawn up taking account of the current EU hygiene legislation requirements, but most importantly the requirements of the new consolidated EU hygiene legislation due to come into effect in the UK in January 2006. This legislation sets out the future criteria for the classification of shellfish harvesting areas in the EU.

The EU Commission has advised us that the specific detailed E. coli tolerance levels (ie. currently 90% of samples below 4600 E. coli per 100g of flesh for B Class areas) are to be discussed in an EU Working Group in the near future. The outcome of these discussions may impact on the LTC proposals. However, in order to avoid any further delay in seeking views on the proposed approach, it has been agreed to issue the proposals now. The proposals are made on the basis that the tolerance for B class areas in that live bivalve molluscs from these areas must not exceed in 90% of samples the limit of 4,600 E. coli per 100g of flesh will be maintained. We will however need to take account of any EU legislative requirements that may arise from discussions on the classification criteria. When these are known, consideration will need to be given as to the effect on the proposals and whether there may be a need for further consultation.

The scheme that has been developed is intended to be the first stage of an on-going process. In the first instance LTC is expected to apply to B class beds with 5 years worth of compliance data (90% below 4600 E. coli/100g of flesh). It is envisaged that the arrangements would be reviewed after 2 years with a view to extending them, if successful, to class A beds. None of the A class areas in England and Wales currently has data over a five year period showing compliance with the legal requirements for sample results (ie all results for the period below 230 E. coli per 100g of flesh). In addition, in England and Wales, over 80% of the current classifications are B class beds and this is where the greatest benefit will be gained for public health and the industry when the proposals are implemented. All beds not covered by the LTC arrangements would be subject to temporary annual classifications.

Under the proposals, a tiered system of investigation and control measures would be introduced which would include an ‘action state’ to facilitate rapid response and action in cases where E. coli levels exceed trigger values. Local Action Groups, comprising representatives from industry, Local Authorities, the Environment Agency and the Sea Fisheries Inspectorate, will be responsible for investigating incidents using Local Action Plans where E. coli readings exceed legal levels.

Further details are provided on the FSA web site at: Proposals to improve classification arrangements for designated shellfish harvesting areas in England and Wales (pdf file)

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