Oysters caught in EU red tape

Brussels bureaucrats were yesterday branded "absurd" after insisting that complex animal welfare rules should be applied to the transportation of shellfish.

The Agriculture Minister, Angela Browning, stepped into scupper the "Euro nonsense" red tape that lumped oysters and mussels in the same category as cattle and sheep.

Shellfish producers were outraged to discover they had been included in EU rules drawn up in response to widespread concern from animal welfare groups about transport conditions for live creatures.

Under the rules, they were required to: give regular "rest" periods to shellfish; immerse them in water or spray them "to avoid injury, stress and suffering"; and fill out complex documentation including travel plans for journeys over 50km.

The Welfare of Animals Transport Order, springing from the EU directive, dictated regulations to apply to a series of farm animals and "any other cold-blooded creature of any species".

Shellfish producers and sellers making regular journeys from all over southern England to Billingsgate fish market found they were breaking the law for driving more than 50km with a bag of mussels or winkles or a tray of oysters.

Tory MP John Whittingdale, whose Colchester South and Maldon constituency contains a number of producers, complained to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

"This is an example of an inflexible regulation, which is dreamt up by unthinking bureaucrats, that has the unintended effect of threatening the livelihoods of large numbers of people for quite clearly ludicrous reasons," he said.

"Everyone supports the idea of having humane regulations to govern the transport of cattle, sheep, and warm-blooded animals, but the idea it could be extended to cover shellfish is patently absurd."

One of those hit was Peter Davidson, owner of Dengie Shellfish of Southminster, Essex, who feared his daily transportation of crabs, lobsters, winkles, oysters and mussels to and from Billingsgate faced massive disruption. "Because the journey is more like 50 miles than 50km, I would have needed a piece of paper for each of the batches of shellfish to be moved," he said.

Mrs Browning ordered officials at MAFF to find a way around the EU regulations which in Britain are traditionally enforced to the letter.