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Mice Spared as EU Court OKs New Shellfish Test

(CN) - An order by the European Commission to use chemical methods to detect toxins in shellfish - rather than the old way of using mice - does not infringe on the EU's treaties with its member states, the European General Court ruled Wednesday.

Between 2005 and 2011, EU law required shellfish producers to inject mice with mollusk flesh extracts to detect and quantify the level of marine biotoxins in their catch.

But in 2011 - in an effort to halt the use of live animals in scientific testing - the European Food Safety Authority developed a chemical method to find biotoxins in shellfish.

The commission officially phased out the use of mice to detect marine biotoxins at the end of 2014.

But shellfish producers in Galicia, Spain, balked at the chemical testing, arguing that the commission's order actually undermines public health - and inconveniences the shellfish industry there. Spain lodged a complaint with the European General Court over what it called the commission's infringement of the EU constitution.

The Luxembourg-based court dismissed Spain's action on Wednesday, noting that EU food safety regulators have found that the continued use of mice to detect shellfish toxicity actually endangers public health more than the chemical tests do.

Therefore, the commission had an obligation to act quickly and ditch the live-animal tests - a decision bolstered by a scientific study done by other member states and the EU Reference Laboratory for Marine Biotoxins that validated the new process, the court said.

The Spanish government failed to prove that the chemical test is less reliable than the mice method or that its higher cost will lead to public health risks. And the additional costs aren't excessive enough to trigger an infringement of the EU constitutional guarantees of proportionality, the court said in an opinion that was not made available in English.

Spain has 60 days to appeal the lower court's decision to the European Court of Justice.

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