Arcachon oysters absolved of blame for deaths of tourists

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The Independent Online

The "killer" oysters of Arcachon are innocent. A two-month public inquiry into the deaths of two people after eating oysters from Arcachon bay in south-west France has confirmed what local shellfish producers proclaimed all along: the oysters were not to blame.

The producers, who have suffered a 30 per cent drop in sales since the deaths in September, plan to sue the French government. Some accuse Paris of becoming obsessed with food hygiene. Others suggest that there was a deliberate "plot" to damage the industry and clear the potentially valuable foreshore of Arcachon bay for tourist development.

Marc Druart, leader of the local oyster producing industry, which is one of the most celebrated in the world, said: "We want to know how this came about and by whose decision. We want to know who wanted to destroy us."

The Agriculture Ministry in Paris still insists that the results of the inquiry are not ready for publication. However, the local prefect - or senior government representative - said that the inquiry had now conclusively identified other causes for the sudden deaths of two visitors to Arcachon - a woman in her eighties and a man of 61.

Although oysters can become dangerous to human health, there are very few recorded cases of people dying from oyster poisoning.

Deep mystery still surrounds, however, the origins of an unidentified toxin which has entered the oysters of the bay on several occasions in the past two years.

The sale of oysters was suspended in late August after tests using live mice found that the shellfish were contaminated. Sales started again but the nature and source of the toxin have yet to be identified.

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