The European Union will allow the import of live bivalve molluscs from UK waters that have been recategorised Class A waters, as long as those waters meets EU standards

LBMs such as oysters from UK Class A waters will have to meet EU public health legislation

The European Union will allow the import of live bivalve molluscs from UK waters that have been recategorised Class A waters, as long as those waters meets EU standards.

That was the message from the European Commission as the UK moved to upgrade production areas of bivalve molluscs like cockles, mussels and oysters to Class A.

As of 01 April, the Food Standards Agency updated the classifications of 11 production areas to Class A. This classification applies for at least five-months of the year with the dates of each seasonal upgrade varying between sites.

The recategorization will allow shellfish producers in specified areas of the UK to export these shellfish live onto the EU market, something which the majority of producers could not do since 01 January. After the UK exited the EU, the UK became a third country, and being a third country, they could not import live bivalve molluscs from their Class B waters into the EU.

The EU would allow the import of live bivalve molluscs from the UK if they came from Class A waters, but an overall majority of UK waters are categorised Class B and Class C.

Secretary of State, George Eustice had insisted that they UK had a pre-Brexit agreement with the EU to allow the continued export of LBMs (live bivalve molluscs) post-Brexit, a claim which the EU has continually denied.

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 The ban on LBMs from Class B waters in the UK has hit the industry hard with many in the media calling it revenge on the British for Brexit, but the EU insist that the UK Government was aware of the change and this was evidenced in a letter signed by George Eustice dated 10 December 2020.

An EU Commission spokesperson has said that their position remains unchanged:

“Import into the EU of live bivalve molluscs for human consumption is allowed only if they originate from classified areas A and meet all the health and sanitary requirements for molluscs destined for immediate human consumption.

“Consequently, live bivalve molluscs originating from third countries from production areas classified as B or C cannot be imported into the Union as they do not meet these health requirements.  

“This also applies to the UK, now a third country.

“The rules in this area have not changed. They have applied, and continue to do so, to all third countries.

“The Commission has informed the UK Chief Veterinary Officer and the British shellfish industry that such requirements are not temporary and are now applicable to all shellfish imported from UK as a direct consequence of Brexit.

“This is not new and it is not a surprise to the UK administration.”

Asked what the UK needs to do in order to be able to export to the EU, the spokesperson said:

“According to EU rules, all areas where the molluscs are harvested are all classified as A, B or C depending on the quality of the water, from a microbiological point of view.

“The UK, now a third country, is only authorised to export bivalve molluscs to the EU, via an approved dispatch centre, originating from A areas, or molluscs originating from B areas which will have already been depurated in the UK before being exported, whereas members of the single market may send live bivalve molluscs caught in one Member State to another for purification.

“The molluscs could also originate from C areas but before being exported to the EU, they must have been subject to relaying in UK waters in order to be in compliance with the criteria foreseen for the A areas.

“To meet all the public health requirements established in the EU legislation, these products are to be accompanied by a public health certificate signed by the competent UK authorities.

“Since the UK has a number of B areas, the solution would be to have more depuration centres in the UK, this is of course something that requires planning and investment.

“In the longer term, another alternative is to improve the quality of the water where harvesting takes place so that they are classified as A instead of B or C.” 

In relation to what are the “classified areas” and who classifies them the spokesperson said:

“Live bivalve molluscs can be harvested for human consumption only if originating from production areas that the competent authorities of the country have classified according to their microbiological contamination.

“The areas are classified as:

A: the cleanest, from where the molluscs can be directly sent to the market,

B: more polluted:  in that case the molluscs must be subject to a purification process in an approved purification centre in order to reduce their microbiological contamination to the level of an A area,  

C: very polluted: from these areas, the molluscs can only go to an establishment that is cooking it or subject to relaying for long time in areas with clean water until they comply with the criteria prescribed for A areas.

“It is not possible to harvest mussels, oysters, clams etc from non-classified areas.”

One of the problems facing LBM exporters from the UK is that depurated shellfish have a short shelf-life and the cost of building and installing a depuration system could cost up to £1m, which was a non-starter for most exporters.

The issues now faced by British LBM exporters will come in the form of the public health certificate and if the EU approves the UK’s standards for Class A waters, all of which means the UK must accept EU legislation.

by Oliver McBride

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UK LBMs must meet EU public health legislation before export

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