Prawns

Environment Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 15th October 2008.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

(1) if he will assess the relative health benefits and safety from toxins of wild prawns farmed in the UK with farmed prawns imported from South East Asia; and if he will make a statement;

(2) if he will increase the rigorousness and regularity of the testing of shellfish imported from South East Asia; and if he will make a statement;

(3) what steps he is taking to reduce the risk of toxic imported shellfish being put on sale to the public in the UK.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

Prawns are not farmed in the UK. Some other shellfish are farmed in the UK, but are subject to controls required by EU legislation aimed at raising the standards of aquaculture health throughout the EU.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has responsibility for food safety matters, including controls on imported food such as shellfish from non-EU countries. These imports are subject to robust checks at UK seaports and airports of entry by local authorities in accordance with EU food safety and hygiene legislation.

All imports of food products from non-EU countries must meet food safety and food hygiene requirements equivalent to those in the UK. Products of animal origin, including shellfish, may be imported from non-EU countries which ensure that establishments meet EU standards and, have enforcement officials who monitor and are required to certify compliance with EU food safety criteria.

Such products must enter the EU through designated Border Inspection Posts under the control of official inspectors, where they undergo documentary and identity checks and a prescribed proportion are subject to physical compliance checks, which can include testing for toxins.

DEFRA's Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) carries out surveillance for unacceptable residues of veterinary medicinal products in imported foodstuffs every year. This is based on recommendations from the independent Veterinary Residues Committee (VRC), which advises the VMD and FSA on residues issues. The programme focuses on looking for substances prohibited from use in the EU, and which therefore should not be present in food imported into the EU.

Warm water crustaceans have been included in the programme for several years. Several non-compliant results for metabolites of nitrofurans (antibiotics prohibited from use in the EU owing to health concerns) were reported in 2005 and 2006, with fewer non-compliant results in 2007 and 2008 to date. These are predominantly from South-East Asia. The UK authorities wrote to the Commission on this issue in January 2007.

Number of samples Number of non-compliant
2005 301 19
2006 393 23
2007 302 2
2008 to date 184 3

Further details of the results can be obtained from the VRC's website at www.secretariat@vet-residues-committee.gov.uk.

Non-compliant consignments are rejected and can be destroyed. The EU Commission is notified through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) of such consignments and all EU (and EEA) border posts are advised to reinforce controls.

If a consignment fails these checks then the next 10 consignments from the relevant establishment are checked, for example, for the presence of veterinary residues. EU emergency safeguard conditions are taken when there is an outbreak of disease or other circumstances likely to present a risk to public health.

Inland local authorities also carry out checks of food on sale, regardless of country of origin. It is for food businesses to ensure that food on sale in the UK meets food safety requirements. Robust import conditions and targeted enforcement action is used to check food throughout the food chain to minimise potential risks to public health.

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