EU bans the importing of live Class B bivalve molluscs like mussels from UK
The European Union has closed the door on the import of live mussels, oysters, clams and cockles from the United Kingdom.
Exports of live bivalve molluscs that are not ready for human consumption are banned for the foreseeable future and this has in the majority caused the fishing and harvesting of these species to be shut down, putting an industry worth hundreds of millions of pounds in jeopardy.
Live bivalve molluscs that are landed from “Class A” waters – the very cleanest – can currently be transported from the UK to the EU without the need for purification beforehand. But most UK waters are not in that category.
The vast majority of molluscs come from “Class B” waters. These must be depurated before they are fit for human consumption. There are currently barriers in place by the EU that mean that live bivalve molluscs not depurated from Class B waters cannot be exported from third countries, including the UK, to the EU for depuration.
The ban originally applied only to wild-caught bivalve molluscs and was understood to have been caused by new EU animal health regulations which are due to come into force on 21 April. The previous regulations expired at the end of 2020, leaving a gap until the new ones come into force. Before 01 January this year, shellfish was normally purified or processed in the EU before it was distributed for human consumption to supermarkets and eateries.
But the shellfish sector learned this week that the ban now applies to all exports to the EU of live bivalve molluscs, not just wild-caught animals.
Since 01 January, UK firms have been able to send only pre-purified, ready-to-eat shellfish – accompanied by an export health certificate – to buyers in the EU’s 27 member states.
It was “expected” that the EU would change its rules on that date to allow impurified shellfish in from non-member states.
But it has emerged that the European Commission wrote to leading UK companies on 13 and 19 January to tell them the current arrangement would be in place indefinitely.
A government source confirmed that UK officials were aware of the EU’s stance, with a DEFRA spokesperson telling PoliticsHome:
“We will continue to raise the issue of live bivalve molluscs not ready for human consumption with the EU, to ensure the trade can continue securely.”
There are currently no seafood processors in the UK that is equipped to depurate large quantities of live bivalve molluscs and companies would have to invest up to £1 million in order to install such treatment plants which some say is not feasible. Another issue facing shellfish processors is that purified shellfish deteriorate quicker that impurified shellfish, making them more difficult to transport.