In The Sunday Times yesterday, the distinguished conservationist and journalist Charles Clover took the EU and the FSA to task over the food safety regulations that govern the shucking of scallops.
Under EU rules, shucking (or the removal of the viscera) has to be done in premises that have been approved for this process. The rules have been set to give consumers the best protection from the toxins, such as amnesic shellfish poisoning toxins, potentially found in EU waters.
I’m sure debate about the strictness of these rules will continue elsewhere, but there’s one particular point Charles Clover’s raises that I wanted to comment on, he says: ‘I challenged the FSA to produce a record of a person poisoned by a poorly shucked scallop in a restaurant. It could not.’
The inference we’re meant to draw from this is that the rules are, therefore, unnecessary. But just because there’s an absence of cases, this is not proof that a real risk does not exist. Indeed, conversely it could be thought of as evidence of how successful the regulations are. A subject with which Charles, as the author of a very important and well argued book about over fishing called ‘End of The Line’, should be very familiar – it’s just a cheap shot from a ordinarily thoughtful commentator.
Some years ago, a serious road accident – one in a series sadly – in my part of Pimlico involving a neighbour (delightfully named Boo) resulted in new traffic calming measures on a local through road. Subsequently there have been no more incidents, but no one, except perhaps impatient white van drivers and pizza delivery boys, is arguing that the measures are unnecessary. Or putting it in ‘End of The Line’ terms: just because some fish stocks have returned, this doesn’t mean we should suddenly abandon restrictions on catching fish. Changes in legislation must surely be driven by evidence and must be a step-by-step process?
Let me remind everyone of the serious consequences of Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) toxins, and for which there is no known antidote. Symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps, disorientation and memory loss (in serious cases permanent loss of), seizures, renal failure, coma and in some cases it can be fatal.
I realise that newspaper columns are meant to be knockabout stuff (and so are blogs), but scientific rigour and proper use of evidence is at the heart of all good policy making. Does anybody out there want to defend Mr Clover’s use of evidence, or continue the debate about shucking off our scallop responsibilities?