Opposition to 'mouse test' builds

By

Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
August 23, 2009

 Oyster producers in western France can once again sell their wares, but their calls for an end to the controversial "mouse test" only grow louder.

This week, local authorities in Bordeaux lifted a harvesting ban on oysters from Banc D'Arguin, one of four key oyster grounds in Arcachon Bay, that had been in effect since 12 August. Mouse tests last week revealed a "significant presence" of dinophysis, an algae that can sicken humans.

Despite lifting the ban, one of several implemented since May, Arcachon Bay oyster producers continue to voice their opposition to the mouse test and question its reliability.

With annual consumption of more than 125,000 metric tons, France is Europe's No. 1 oyster market, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. And Arcachon Bay is one of the country's major oyster-producing regions.

The only European Commission-sanctioned oyster test, the mouse bioassay method detects the presence of toxins in bivalves, such as oysters, clams and mussels, that could be harmful to consumers.

For the test, three mice receive an injection containing an extract from the digestive glands of bivalves. If two or three mice die within 24 hours of the injection, the shellfish are considered unhealthy and the area from which they were harvested is shut down, according to AFSSA, France's food-safety agency.

"This test is cruel and obsolete. It represents a constant menace to the oysters farmers," said the group representing Arcachon Bay oyster producers.

In July, the group set up an online petition, demanding that Brussels immediately terminate the mouse test, while Olivier Laban, the group's president, has since resigned from his position.

Last month, French Food and Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire urged the European Commission to replace the mouse test. "We should be able to find a test that works better than the mouse test, and that is what I have asked the commission," he said at the time.

Earlier this year, the French government called on the oyster industry to develop alternatives to the mouse test. Following a review, AFSSA issued a statement in July that said, "Considering the current state of knowledge the mouse bioassay should remain the decisive test."

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