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Cockle gatherers welcome beds' reopening; SHELLFISH: Processors claim official test for toxins is flawed and that it is time to fall into line with Europe.

COCKLE gatherers who ate their own ``poisoned'' harvest with no ill effects have given a cautious welcome to a decision to re-open the shellfish beds.

After a series of tests proved negative for Diarrhoeic Shellfish Poisoning the cockle beds at Penclawdd and the Burry Inlet have been opened once again.

Leading shellfish processor Rory Parsons, who led last week's ``taste test'' experiment in defiance of Food Standards Agency and local council closure orders wants the toxin tests to be thoroughly reviewed.

He and others in the West Wales shellfish industry suspect the FSA's testing methods could be showing up the presence of toxins when none exist.

While more than 30 gatherers ate cockles gathered from the closed beds last week none have shown the classic diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms associated with DSP.

Mr Parson said, ``I think our protest showed that you can eat cockles at a time when the beds are closed and not get any illness from eating them. What does that say about the tests?'' The FSA injects laboratory mice with macerated cockles plus a chemical injecting agent while other European countries just feed rats directly with suspect cockles.

Mr Parsons believes the chemical additives could be showing up posi-tive results and the FSA has now agreed to look at the possibility of falling in line with continental Europe where outbreaks of DSP are fewer.

Mr Parsons said, ``It's fine that the beds are opened now but come the next batch of tests in a few weeks time we could be closed down again.

``What we need is to change the testing methods so we are on a level playing field with the rest of Europe.''

Cockle gatherers facing an uncertain future are hoping they may qualify for compensation for lost earnings under Objective One funding.

National Assembly Rural Affairs Minister Carwyn Jones said the South West Wales Objective One local partnership committee had approved the idea in principle. The gatherers could get hundreds of thousands of pounds to cover lost earnings under European fisheries legislation which provides for compensation in the event of biological problems.

The Assembly's Rural Assets Objective One Committee now has to consider the proposal when it meets on June 15.

It is thought as much as pounds 1m could be paid out to 50 to 60 gatherers in West Wales to cover up to six months' lost earnings.

Some gatherers have been forced to borrow money in the hope they will eventually get compensation for loss of earnings.

CAPTION(S):

BACK TO WORK: Cockle gatherers return to the cockle beds at Penclawdd yesterday. They are seeking compensation for lost earnings Picture: Dragon News
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 28, 2002
Words:441
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