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BUAV welcomes UK announcement on cruel mice poisoning tests

22/03/2012

The BUAV has welcomed an announcement by the Government confirming that the majority of shellfish safety testing is now carried out using non-animal methods, thereby saving the lives of thousands of animals a year.

In a statement released 12th March 2012 the Secretary of State for the Home Department said “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”. 

Marine biotoxins, which are dangerous to humans, can be found in shellfish. In accordance with EU food hygiene legislation, shellfish may only be put on the market for human consumption if it is has been established, through regular batch testing, that they are free of these biotoxins. 

The traditional animal test for the detection of shellfish toxins is known as the mouse bioassay (MBA) and involves injecting extracts from the shellfish into the stomachs of mice and timing how long it takes for the animals to die. If two-thirds of the mice die within 24 hours, the shellfish is deemed unsafe for humans. The MBA is a method that has long been criticized by scientists and industry groups not just for its scientific imprecision but also for the horrific suffering it causes the animals.

In March 2006, a far superior non-animal method for shellfish PSP toxin testing was finally approved by the European Union. In January 2011, this analytical chemistry method (the ‘HPLC method’) was also accepted to check shellfish for the presence of DSP toxins, rendering the MBA redundant. EU countries had until December 2014 to move to the alternative method.

Although welcoming this announcement, the BUAV is disappointed that there is not yet 100% replacement and that the transitional period between validating the non-animal methods and implementing them continues to be exceedingly drawn out, allowing for the unnecessary death of thousands of animals.