Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Atkins MEP (North West England) has stepped into the controversy surrounding health tests for the British Cockle Fishing Industry which look set to close down indigenous production to the benefit of foreign competitors.

"I have been in continuing discussions with Kershaws of Southport - our local Processor in the North West - and have discovered just how threatening to the future of this 50 year-old company are the unduly fierce biological tests required only by the British Foods Standards Authority," commented Sir Robert. "I have raised the problem personally with Health Commissioner David Byrne and will be taking a delegation from the Shellfish Industry, including Kershaws, to meet the Commissioner in the Autumn. I have also asked the Chairman of the European Parliament Fisheries Committee to put this issue at the top of his Committee's Agenda for consideration, upon the return of Parliament in August, when Commission Officials will be forced to respond to my concerns."

The FSA uses a controversial process, called the Mouse Bioassay Test, about which there is conflicting evidence from scientists as to its accuracy or efficacy. This test is to find Diarhetic Shellfish Poisoning which, whilst harmful to humans, has never killed or seriously injured a single person in the UK. Competitor countries within the EU, such as France and the Netherlands, no longer utilise the MBT as they believe, more often than not, it results in the death of the mice from toxic causes unrelated to DSP. There are perfectly acceptable alternative tests under the provisions of the relevant EU Directive.

"I telephoned Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the FSA, to appraise him of the deep worries of the industry - of which he was unaware - and questioned him as to his Authority's apparent refusal to acknowledge the increasing amount of technical opinion against this test," continued the North West MEP, "Sir John undertook to investigate but made no commitment to re-evaluate the MBT."

"If something is not done very soon then the cockle fishing and processing industry throughout the UK will cease to exist - boats will be laid up, jobs will be lost and we will be at the mercy of foreign producers and suppliers," declared Sir Robert. "My Liberal colleague, Chris Davies MEP, has also been approached by Kershaws and shares my concern. It is essential that Fisheries Minister, Elliott Morley MP, is pressed about the implications of the FSA and, accordingly, I have asked my colleague, Rt. Hon. Michael Jack MP, a former Fisheries Minister himself, to table a series of Parliamentary Questions to the Minister."

For further information:
Sir Robert - 01995 602225 / 07770 254444
David Kershaw - 01704 530767
Michael Jack - 020 7219 4454 / 07767 496857
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