EU Shrimp Export Ban Set to Ease
Saturday, 12 September 2009

Shrimp exporters are set to ease a self-imposed ban on exports to the European Union after initiatives to eliminate contamination of frozen goods by a toxic antibiotic begin to take hold.

"We brought in foreign experts who tried to trace how the toxic antibiotic entered shrimp rearing and export-processing areas in Bangladesh," Syed Mahmudul Huq, chairman of Bangladesh Shrimp and Fish Foundation (BSFF), told on Wednesday.

Bangladeshi exporters suspended shrimp consignments to the EU for 'six months' from last May after almost 100 shipments, over a four-year period, were subject to a 'Rapid Alert' notice, which circulates information on food safety problems among European nations.

Between 2005 and June 2009, sixty consignments of frozen shrimp from Bangladesh were rejected by the EU due to nitrofuran contamination, a banned antibiotic.

In July this year, the government launched a national action plan for the shrimp industry, which aimed to revitalise the beleaguered sector after the ban slashed foreign currency earnings in the sector.

The BSFF chairman said his organisation expected to resume exports to EU countries in November, after a number of measures designed to eliminate contamination by the toxic antibiotic were implemented.

"After investigating potential sources of the contaminant and the way it spread, we suspect the poison originates from fish feed. It may also come from medicines used in the industry," said Huq.

"All possible routes and sources are being investigated," he added.

Bangladesh fell short of frozen food export targets by 20.83 percent in FY 2008-09, with exports totalling $454.43 million.

Maksudur Rahman, vice-president of Bangladesh Frozen Food Exporters Association, said 65 percent of the country's total shrimp exports came from saline water 'bagda' exports, and the rest came from sweet water 'galda' exports.

"Most buyers of export shrimp are from EU countries," said Rahman, adding a lack of control over quality of fish feed had seriously threatened the industry.

"An appropriate law has to be enacted as soon as possible to counter damages to the industry wrought by this antibiotic," he said.

From Nov 2008 to May 2009, most cases of nitrofuran contaminated shrimp consignments were detected in Belgium.

Frozen food exporters at the time urged the government to invest in state-of-the-art testing equipment to confirm allegations of contamination by EU buyers.

Parikshit Dutta Chowdhury, joint secretary at the fisheries and livestock ministry and chief of the committee investigating nitrofuran contamination, said detection equipment in the country had been upgraded in line with advice from foreign experts.

"Bangladesh Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has also procured a new machine," said Chowdhury.

Shrimp cultivation has become increasingly widespread over recent years in Mymensingh, Jamalpur, Sunamganj, Patuakhali, Barisal and Jessore, with around 200,000 hectares turned over to shrimp cultivation in the country.

The last caretaker government promulgated the Fish and Animal Feed Ordinance 2008, although the current administration is yet to ratify it.


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