Secretary George Eustice claims that the EU’s ban on live bivalve molluscs exports from Class B waters in the UK has no legal justification
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice claims that the European Union’s position on banning live bivalve molluscs exports taken from Class B waters in the UK has no legal justification.
Today in Parliament he said he believed that the EU had made an error in the interpretation of the law and they are not correct. He also accused them of changing their position on the exporting of live bivalve molluscs by introducing the ban when they had assured the UK government otherwise.
Mr Eustice was under questioning from Labour’s Stephanie Peacock and Sir David Amess, Conservative MP on the issue and both representatives urged the secretary to act immediately as UK seafood businesses are in dire need of access to the EU markets.
The Secretary confirmed that he has written a letter to the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Ms Stella Kyriakides outlining his grievances with the bloc’s decision in regard to live bivalve molluscs.
Dear Commissioner Kyriakides,
Trade in live bivalve molluscs from GB to EU for purification in the EU
Thank you for sighting UK officials on the letter of 3 February from Bernard Van Goethem of the Commission Services to EU Chief Veterinary Officers. The letter addressed imports into the EU from Great Britain of live, bivalve molluscs for depuration from waters classified as ‘Class B’. It set out the view that this trade is not permitted.
This trade, which goes both ways, has been in place for many years. This development is therefore of grave concern to the UK and businesses that rely on this trade.
We accept that there is a distinction between molluscs which are already fit for human consumption and those that require purification beforehand. The point is that the animals in question are alive, destined for further treatment. The parallel might be with livestock as they leave the farm gate.
The UK’s high status for shellfish health is one of the reasons that EU businesses turn to our farms. We implement and enforce high standards and have excellent traceability systems in place.
We are surprised that the Commission has changed its position, and in our view this is inconsistent with earlier statements provides to us by Commission Services. On 27 September 2019 the Commission Services provided advice to the UK Chief Veterinary Officer that when these animals are exported to the EU for purification, they can be certified with the model Export Health Certificate set out in Part A of Annex IV to Commission Regulation (EC) No 1251/2008. The Commission Services advised that there was no need to provide supplementary documentation to assist with traceability to the waters of origin and we advised our industry accordingly, stating that the trade could continue. This is therefore unexpected and difficult news for an industry that relies on trade between the UK and EU.
We also note a parallel concern about advice we have received but do not share about not being able to transport live bivalve molluscs for human consumption in viviers.
We can see no scientific or technical justification for this change and the news was conveyed to us rather casually and after the event. This is not in the collaborative and cooperative spirit in which we wish to work together going forward.
We are seeking urgent resolution of this matter, and we would welcome a meeting to discuss this. We are not averse to providing additional reassurances to demonstrate shellfish health within reason, but this must recognise the existing high standards and history of trade between us.
The Secretary of State’s answer to the Question from the Parliamentary Session
We have a long-standing trade in live bivalve molluscs to the EU from UK waters. This has benefited both our own shellfish industry and EU restaurants and retailers who rely on these premium products from the UK.
Recently, concerns have emerged for our trade in live bivalve molluscs to the EU coming from UK Class B production waters which have not been through purification or have not cleared testing.
The European Commission has changed its position in recent weeks. They advised us in writing in September 2019 that the trade could continue. We shared the Commission’s view and worked with the industry on that basis. This included explaining that for one small part of the industry – wild harvested molluscs from Class B waters – there would need to be a pause while we awaited a new Export Health Certificate to become available in April but that in line with the guidance from the EU trade in the molluscs from farms could continue uninterrupted.
We continue to believe that our interpretation of the law and the EU’s original interpretation is correct and that the trade should be able to continue for all relevant molluscs from April. And there is no reason for a gap at all for molluscs from aquaculture.
However, last week, the Commission gave us sight of instructions they had sent to all Member States on 3 February stating that any imports into the EU from the UK of Live Bivalve Molluscs for purification from Class B waters, such as the sea around Wales and the South West of England, are not permitted. Exports from Class A waters, such as we find around parts of Scotland, may continue.
Bringing an end to this traditional and valuable trade is unacceptable. I recognise this is a devastating blow to those business that are reliant on the trade. While we do not agree with the Commission’s interpretation of the law, we have had to advise traders that their consignments may very well not be accepted at EU ports for now.
I am seeking urgent resolution to this problem and I have written to Commissioner Kyriakides today. I have emphasised our high shellfish health status and our systems of control. I have said, if it would assist the trade, we could provide reasonable additional reassurances to demonstrate shellfish health, but this must recognise the existing high standards and history of trade between us. It is in the EU’s interests to restore this trade; many businesses in the EU have invested in depuration equipment and are configured around managing the export of molluscs from Class B waters.
We have met the industry several times and they are of course extremely concerned. We are working well with the Shellfish Association of Great Britain who are taking up the issue in meetings with European counterparts.
The molluscs affected include mussels, oysters, clams and cockles. In general, the scallop trade is less affected. Scallop exports may instead undergo pre-export testing, as was the case before exit. However, we know that there are some businesses who have not traditionally been working in that way. We are discussing with them how we may help.
The issue does not affect molluscs landed in Northern Ireland. It does however affect movements from GB to Northern Ireland.
I know that this issue will be of great concern to many exporters around the country. Defra will continue the technical discussions with the European Commission and I will update the House with any developments in due course.