For a decade, the U.S and European Union have blocked the import of raw molluscan shellfish from each other. Now, FDA and the European Commission (EC) have come to an agreement on the first-ever food safety equivalence determination for molluscan shellfish, which includes oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops. The landmark deal is in effect for the U.S. and Spain and the Netherlands, and opens up shellfish trade between the countries for the first time since 2010.
“These actions reflect key strategic international engagement and several years of careful review by the FDA on behalf of consumers at home and abroad,” Anna Abram, FDA’s deputy commissioner for policy, legislation, and international affairs, said in a prepared statement. “Today we’re helping unlock economic opportunity by creating a path forward to new market access for U.S. exporters.”
This deal was a long time in the making. FDA initially stopped allowing raw shellfish to be imported from EU countries in the late 1980s due to public health concerns. In 2010, the EU stopped accepting U.S. exports of raw bivalve molluscan shellfish after an EC audit determined that U.S. food safety controls did not comply with comparable EU requirements.
FDA says that experts on both sides of the Atlantic have spent the last number of years evaluating each other’s food safety control measures for molluscan shellfish and conducting on-site audits to verify the other’s systems. The two parties used food safety controls for molluscan shellfish with an approach laid out in the Veterinary Equivalency Agreement signed by both back in 1999.
Frank Yiannas, FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response, tells Food Quality & Safety recently that a deal like this was expected, thanks in part to expanded traceability initiatives enacted as part of its New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint. “Americans can be confident in the equivalence determination that Spain and the Netherlands have implemented safety controls that are equivalent to ours, thereby enabling us to allow Spain and the Netherlands to export raw molluscan shellfish to the U.S.,” Yiannas says. “The FDA is committed to keeping consumers safe and ensuring the safety of our food supply, and that includes seafood, whether it is imported or harvested domestically.”
Additionally, the EC will now permit raw and processed molluscan shellfish, including clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops, to be imported from the U.S., starting with shellfish from Massachusetts and Washington.
FDA plans to recognize other EU member states in the future, as arrangements have been made to use a streamlined process for expanding market access between these two trading partners.
Shellfish accounts for more than $1.6 billion in total value of U.S. exports, and this deal for shellfish trade is expected to push that number up considerably in the years ahead.