January 22, 2018

In a Twist, China Bans U.S. Shellfish

We’re used to hearing about how food from China is banned from entering the U.S., or that consumer and food safety groups oppose measures to bring food from that country here. But now China has turned the tables by banning all imports of West coast shellfish from its borders.

Shellfish SelectionThe issue is paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins and arsenic found in geoduck clams harvested in Renton, Washington and Ketchikan in Alaska. No shellfish harvested on the entire West coast will be exported to China for the foreseeable future. The ban applies to clams, oysters, geoducks, and all bivalve shellfish harvested off Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and northern California. The health departments of those states routinely test for PSP and arsenic, as well as other parasites and bacteria.

Officials with the Washington Department of Health said this step is unusual. Shellfish from one or two areas have been found with elevated levels of PSP toxins and arsenic, but that is not the case with the entire coast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is negotiating with the Chinese government about this issue.

China is the Northwest shellfish industry’s largest market. Geoducks alone account for $68 million in trade to China. Peak season for geoducks occur around the holiday season because they are traditionally served for Chinese New Year celebrations.

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