ANSES and shellfish

Missions of the Agency

Shellfish live in seawater and are in contact with the seabed where they find food including plankton and suspended substances. The quality of shellfish is therefore dependent on water and sediment quality. To ensure the safety of shellfish for the consumer, and to protect shellfish health, the Agency is involved in three main areas.

Monitoring for the presence of contaminants in shellfish

ANSES, via the Maisons-Alfort Laboratory for Food Safety and specifically its site in Boulogne-sur-Mer (Laboratory for fishery products), holds mandates as National Reference Laboratory (NRL) in the area of shellfish safety. Mandates include marine biotoxins, heavy metals, and molecular characterisation of Vibrio parahaemolyticus strains.

In this capacity, the laboratory:

  • develops detection methods and tools for biological contaminants (Vibrio sp.), chemical contaminants (heavy metals) and marine biotoxins in shellfish;
  • carries out studies and research intended to better understand food contamination and contribute to improved risk assessments: contamination of seafood by emerging marine biotoxins, Arcachon national research project, etc.

The laboratory provides scientific and technical support to risk managers and to ANSES’s Risk Assessment Department with the aim of formulating recommendations on the organisation of systems and schemes for phycotoxin, microbiological and chemical monitoring of production zones, marketed products, and leisure fishing areas. In particular, the Agency published a report in September 2010 providing recommendations to improve risk control concerning contamination of marine shellfish by the hepatitis A virus.

Assessing risks for human health associated with consumption of shellfish

The Agency assesses the risks for human health associated with the presence in shellfish of chemical contaminants (cadmium), phycotoxins and microorganisms including bacteria of the Photobacterium genus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus species, parasites of the Cryptosporidium and Giardia genera, hepatitis A virus, norovirus, and other pathogens that are transmissible to humans via food.

In addition, the Agency carries out studies in order to assess consumer exposure, including exposure of individuals who consume large quantities of seafood, and exposure to trace substances and persistent organic pollutants through total diet studies and the Calipso study.

Protecting shellfish health

Given the high summer mortality rates found since 2008 for Pacific oysters along the coast of mainland France, the Agency published a series of opinions on the marine-life health risks associated with re-immersion of oyster spats (from the wild or from hatcheries) in the environment, and on renewed exports and intra-EU trade in oysters. In April 2010, ANSES concluded that the main cause of episodes of high mortality was infection with herpes virus OsHV-1 µvar. The Agency has issued recommendations intended to limit the risk of new episodes, and the risk of contamination of currently unaffected areas.