US, EU propose resuming shellfish trade

The United States and the European Union haven’t traded live shellfish for nearly eight years, but that is set to change.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration published a proposed determination in the Federal Register on 8 March, stating that the safety controls in the European Union are equivalent to those in the United States, opening the door to U.S. imports of shellfish again – starting with the Netherlands and Spain. U.S. shellfish producers could also export shellfish, if the proposal is passed, but only from Washington state and Massachusetts to begin with.

Likewise, the European Commission (EC) is completing administrative procedures for its own proposed determination that U.S. safety controls are equivalent to those in the EU, according to a statement from the FDA.

“For nearly eight years, the U.S. and E.U. have not traded any raw molluscan shellfish products, meaning consumers have been missing out on choices in the market place and businesses in both the U.S. and E.U. have missed opportunities for new commerce,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “The proposed shellfish equivalence determination will help to unlock economic opportunity for both U.S. and EU exporters by creating new market access as well as making a wider selection of healthy and safe shellfish options available to consumers. It will also ensure American consumers that imported molluscan shellfish from Europe is as safe as what we produce in the U.S.”

The FDA and EC actions open up a potentially lucrative new market for the U.S. shellfish industry, which is responsible for an estimated annual production value of USD 500 million (EUR 406 million) annually. The U.S. East Coast shellfish industry, valued at around USD 360 million (EUR 292 million), has doubled in size over the past five years, Bob Rheault, executive director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, told SeafoodSource.

Rheault, who has been urging FDA for several years on behalf of the ECSFGA to reverse the trade ban, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the new proposed action.

“We are glad this step has been taken. We are looking forward to more trade; we are looking at a lucrative potential market,” Rheault said.

The FDA is inviting public comments on the Federal Register notice for 75 days, and then will issue a final rule. If the proposal goes into effect, the agency said that additional E.U. countries will “quickly” be added to the approved list.

“The proposed equivalence determination is based on the FDA’s in-depth review of the E.U.’s food safety controls, including certain provisions critical for ensuring the food safety of molluscan shellfish. If finalized, it would permit the importation of shellfish harvested from selected production areas (initially, only in the Netherlands and Spain) and processed by establishments that have been listed by the FDA on its Interstate Certified Shellfish Shippers List (ICSSL),” the FDA said.

Meanwhile, the EC’s proposed determination, if finalized, would permit the importation of shellfish harvested from approved growing areas in Massachusetts and Washington states initially, although other states may be added over time, FDA said in a statement.

On 1 July, 2010, the E.U. border was closed for imports of U.S. shellfish, after reciprocal reviews of the equivalency of each other’s shellfish sanitation programs. The U.S. was concerned about sanitation issues, including E.U. shellfish harvest areas that were downstream from sewage treatment plants, according to Rheault.

Despite the positive step forward in international trade, Rheault is concerned about the high costs of shipping live shellfish across the ocean.

“Initially, it is going to be a niche market, but the American oyster in past years has had great acceptance in their markets,” Rheault said. “Maybe it will attract specialty sales.”


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