Replacement of Mouse Tests for the Detection of Shellfish Toxins

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Replacement of Mouse Tests for the Detection of Shellfish Toxins

From Four Paws International
November 2010

The replacement of this test represents a long-overdue leap forward in reducing animal suffering and improving food safety. However, Four Paws is appalled that the discredited mouse bioassay will continue to be permitted for several years while member states complete the transition to using the new method. Continued use of the mouse bioassay could put human health at risk and makes a mockery of EU legislation requiring non-animal alternatives to be used where they are available.

Four Paws welcomes the decision to replace the use of mice with an alternative non-animal method in tests to detect toxins in shellfish. The European Commission has announced that a chemical test will be used in future to detect certain types of biotoxins, saving the lives of around 300 000 mice each year.

Oysters, scallops and other shellfish can contain toxins that can cause sickness ranging from indigestion to paralysis and even death. EU regulations require routine testing to be carried out to ensure shellfish are fit for human consumption. The longstanding test for shellfish toxins is known as the "mouse bioassay" and involves the injection of a shellfish extract into the abdomen of mice and timing how long it takes for them to die. The death of two out of three animals within 24 hours is taken to indicate the presence of a toxin.

This test has long been criticised by animal welfare groups as cruel and unreliable. In 2009, the European Food Safety Authority confirmed that the mouse bioassay was “not considered an appropriate tool for control purposes because of the high variability in results, the insufficient detection capability and the limited specificity”.

Chemical methods based on high performance liquid chromatography have already been adopted across Europe as the standard approach for detecting certain shellfish toxins (known as “amnesic” toxins) and can be used in place of mouse tests for other types of shellfish toxin (known as “paralytic” toxins) but until now the mouse test has remained the standard method for detecting “diarrhetic” shellfish toxins.

The replacement of this test represents a long-overdue leap forward in reducing animal suffering and improving food safety. However, Four Paws is appalled that the discredited mouse bioassay will continue to be permitted for several years while member states complete the transition to using the new method. Continued use of the mouse bioassay could put human health at risk and makes a mockery of EU legislation requiring non-animal alternatives to be used where they are available.