Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what her policy is on licensing mouse bioassays to detect shellfish toxins; for which type of toxin and species of shellfish such licences are issued; and if she will make a statement.
Lynne Featherstone (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Equalities Office; Hornsey and Wood Green, Liberal Democrat)
Regulations EC 15/2011, EC 2074/2005, EC853/2004 and EC854/2004 set out the relevant EU requirements. The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 allows the use of the mouse bioassay (MBA) to detect and quantify marine biotoxins in shellfish.
During 2011 significant progress was made in the use of non-animal methods and currently the majority of testing of shellfish for both paralytic shellfish (PSP) toxins and lipophilic toxins, (otherwise known as DSP) is now carried out using non-animal methods. Alternative methods have now been validated and accepted by the competent authority for food hygiene, the Foods Standards Agency, for the species of shellfish that are tested most frequently, which includes mussels, oysters and clams.
The small amount of residual use of the mouse bioassay is due to the alternative methods not having been validated for some types of samples, for example non-bivalve molluscs. Testing of non-bivalve species is only permissible, as an alternative, when bivalve molluscs cannot be used as a marker species. Over time the level of such testing should reduce further as information from these tests form part of the process of validating the non-animal method.
To protect human health and to meet food safety regulations the licence also covers the contingency of having to use the mouse bioassay should the sole world provider of certain essential substances required for the non-animal chemical methods be unable to provide them and also for the investigation of unexplained intoxication incidents.