French health authorities halt shellfish farming in Brittany following norovirus outbreak

Published on
January 7, 2020

Health authorities in France have put in place a ban on shellfish farming in Brittany after an outbreak of norovirus, or gastric flu.

While a local health official told Ouest-France the norovirus was caused by heavy rains causing sewage overflows into local waters, a representative of the regional shellfish committee (CRC) in the area said a lack of adequate water treatment infrastructure was a constant problem for local aquaculture operations.

“The gastroenteritis phenomenon has been around since Christmas,” Philippe Le Gal, the president of the regional CRC, said. “The sewage isn’t always properly treated by the purification plants and the virus ends up in the sea.”

Le Gal said his committee is demanding an investigation of the cause of the contamination.

Five separate bans on shellfish harvesting in the south Brittany region have been put in place since mid-December, affecting around 150 of 330 local aquaculture operations. The latest, affecting farms in the Mont-Saint-Michel and Morbihan areas, is in place “until further notice.”

The bans have had a harsh short-term effect on oyster farmers, whose peak season takes place over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Any products believed to pose a risk to consumers have been removed from sale, and authorities are asking consumers who purchased oysters from the region to return them or dispose of them.

A petition launched on 1 January by the regional CRC is calling for “immediate action to deal with the ecological emergency and substantial compensation for all oyster farmers.”

“The water of the Morbihan coast is now unhealthy. Oyster farmers and their coastline are dying in total indifference,” the petition said. “This is a real economic and human disaster imposed on us by a state that is incapable of protecting our magnificent coastline.”

The petition blamed local officials’ prioritization of the tourism industry for causing the problem.

“[Local officials] boast of welcoming more and more residents and tourists, signing building permits hand over fist while forgetting to deal with human waste and sanitation management,” it said. “Astronomical quantities of polluted water are poured into the sea without raising the eyebrows of the authorities and are poisoning our coasts and oysters, which are now laden with the human gastroenteritis virus.”

Photo courtesy of Andre Wtit/Shutterstock

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