The Food Standards Agency has come under fire from MPs for damaging Britain’s £20m cockle industry with its reaction to atypical positive results from testing of samples.
Statutory monitoring for toxins in shellfish, particularly cockles, has since 2001 produced unexplained results.
On a precautionary basis, the FSA recommended the intermittent closures of shellfish beds in the Thames, the Wash and the MSC-certified Burry Inlet in South Wales.
The Shellfish Association of Great Britain said the bed closures had had a severe economic impact on fishermen,
processors and marketing companies, with the loss of hundreds of livelihoods. An Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report has now said the FSA was slow to investigate alternative explanations for test results.
It added: “The FSA has not lived up to its core value of being open and accessible. The communication and cooperation between the FSA, industry and local authorities has been poor. The result is distrust and hostility.”
The shellfish industry believes that flaws in the test method for England and Wales explain the atypical results. SAGB director Dr Peter Hunt said it was clear no toxins had been found, and FSA testing had been flawed.
The FSA has said there is no evidence this is the case and that further research is needed.
The committee said this research must be completed as soon as possible and a joint working group should be formed to develop common solutions in time for next year’s harvesting starting in May.
Hunt said he believed the testing of old cockle extract on mice was not only flawed but unethical. But he added: “We are delighted the committee did such a thorough analysis.
“We want to move forward with good relationships and with the recommendations implemented quickly.”
Kit Davies