Food Standards Agency
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Research leads to fewer tests on animals

 A recently developed method for testing shellfish for toxins, which can cause serious illness in humans, is being adopted more widely for use on oysters and scallops thanks to Agency research carried out by CEFAS.

The previous method of testing for the toxins was a bioassay, which involved the use of mice. The new test does not involve the use of any animals and reflects the Agency’s commitment to reducing the use of animals in testing where suitable alternative methods are available.

In recent years, research work commissioned by the Agency has led to the introduction of a chemical testing method using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) into the official monitoring programme for the detection of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning toxins in mussels, cockles, razors and hard clams.

Work has continued, enabling the recent extension of the new method in Britain, on 30 August, for other commercially important species of shellfish, including whole king and queen scallops, oysters and four additional clam species. Efforts are being made in Northern Ireland to adopt the method for these other species.

The UK is the first member state in the European Union to use this method as part of its statutory monitoring programme.

Liz, Redmond, Head of Hygiene and Microbiology at the Agency, said: ‘The Agency places great importance on reducing the use of mice in laboratory testing. It has taken many years of research to ensure the new chemical test is as effective at protecting public health as its predecessor. This effort has been worthwhile and we are very pleased the new method can now be extended to such a large proportion of the shellfish market.’

The science behind the story

Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning is caused when people ingest toxins that accumulate in shellfish. Biotoxins are produced in naturally occurring algal blooms. Symptoms can include a tingling sensation of the mouth and tongue, and respiratory problems. In very rare cases it can be fatal.

EU legislation requires that shellfish intended for human consumption are monitored regularly for biotoxins and sets maximum permitted levels of these toxins.

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