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Volume 174: debated on Tuesday 12 June 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what compensation he is offering to (a) fishermen and (b) processors affected by the ban on landings of shellfish and crustaceans.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consultations were held with (a) the catching industry, (b) the processing industry and (c) the EC Commission to help prohibition of shellfish and crustaceans of the coast of northern England.

The warning to consumers of shellfish from the north-east coast issued by the Department of Health on 26 May was first brought to the attention of representatives of the industry on that day.The EC Commission was also notified of this action at an early stage in accordance with agreed EC procedures for circulating information about food hazards.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what research he has available on the effects of red algae bloom on (a) mussels, (b) shellfish and (c) crustaceans; and what regard the Commission has for imposing his prohibited code.

Scientists at the directorate of fisheries research routinely monitor molluscan shellfish, principally mussels, for the toxin which they can accumulate from certain algae. Monitoring of crustacea began this year in response to the very high levels of toxins observed in mussels, and associated research is under way to establish more precisely the consequences of algal blooms to crustacea, principally crabs.The European Commission's proposal for a Council regulation on shellfish hygiene (COM (89) 648 Final) includes a provision that molluscs should not contain more than 80 microgrammes of paralytic shellfish poisoning toxin per hundred grammes of flesh. This is the same criterion as that currently employed in the United Kingdom.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement in respect of the emergency alert issued on 26 May by the Department of Health warning the public not to eat shellfish caught between the Humber and Montrose, north of Dundee, due to contamination by poisonous algae; how far he assesses this situation to have been brought about or aggravated by sewage pollution, farming and chemical waste; and what steps he proposes to deal with this situation.

[holding answer 8 June 1990]: Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) is a naturally occurring and naturally variable algal problem believed to be dependent mainly on weather and sea conditions. The period of greatest risk is in the months of May and June, when large increases in populations of the algae concerned can occur. Since 1968 this Department has monitored weekly toxin levels in mussels from this area during the period from March to August. Results of toxin assays are passed to local environmental health authorities and the Department of Health.On 25 May very high toxin levels were recorded and, in addition to the warning which was sent to the environmental health authorities later that day, the Department of Health issued a public warning notice on the morning of 26 May advising against the consumption of any shellfish taken from the east coast between the Humber and Montrose. In the light of the results of further testing of shellfish samples the Department of Health was on 1 June able to lift its warning in respect of crustacean shellfish other than crabs and on 7 June was able to lift the warning in relation to crabs. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and will lift the warning on molluscan shellfish as soon as it is safe to do so.There is no correlation between pollution and the occurrence of this algae off our north-east coast. This phenomenon occurs in many other parts of the world where the appropriate natural conditions occur such as in France, Spain, Japan and the east and west coasts of Canada. It should also be noted that, between 1814 and 1968, 40 major outbreaks of this algal bloom were recorded off the north-east coast, resulting in 146 cases of illness and about 14 deaths; 78 persons were ill as a consequence of the last major outbreak, in 1968.