Chinese food import authorities have said they are concerned that the levels of heavy metal cadmium in live crabs coming from Ireland exceeds their limits.
They have requested that Ireland ensure only crabs which meet the Chinese standards for cadmium be permitted for export.
Exports of live crab have steadily increased and were most recently estimated at €3m in value.
A significant number of Irish sea-fishing boats are providing this product to up to eight seafood export companies.
Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister Simon Coveney, replying in the Dáil to Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty, said Ireland secured market access to China in 2010 for live crab through bilateral co-operation between the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority and its Chinese counterparts.
It has recently been part of wider trade missions to expand access for Irish food and seafood products in China.
Late last month, the Chinese food import authorities wrote to the Irish embassy in Beijing expressing concern about the levels of the heavy metal cadmium in live crabs coming from Ireland.
Mr Coveney said he was advised that Britain is currently experiencing similar challenges.
The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority notified Irish crab exporters of the new monitoring requirements and the difficulties this would pose for providing health certificates for live Irish crabs intended for export to China.
It followed up the notification with face-to-face discussions with the crab industry to communicate the challenges the application of this standard presents.
As part of efforts to support the trade of compliant safe seafood, a memorandum of understanding is in place with the Chinese import authorities which allows for technical dialogue.
The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority is leading on a technical response to the communication from the Chinese authorities with a view to meaningful dialogue.
A further meeting between the crab industry, the relevant state agencies (Bord Bia, Marine Institute and BIM), the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was also convened.
“I am advised by the Marine Institute, that Irish waters have very low cadmium levels. It is important to bear in mind that heavy metals occur naturally at low levels in the marine environment and, as such, do not pose a food safety risk,” he said.
Mr Coveney said he is satisfied the procedures in place for monitoring the safety of Irish seafood, including live crab, meet the stringent European standards.
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