Trade Restrictions on Oysters Get Shucked
At his family’s oyster farm on Mont-Saint-Michel Bay in Brittany, France, Stephan Alleaume supervises his workers as they prepare their famous Saint Kerber oysters for shipment around the world. Boxes of the famed Tsarkayas and Speciales are destined for Germany, Singapore, Vietnam, Cameroon, Martinique, and Dubai. Even French Polynesia can’t get enough of these Japanese oysters raised in the cool waters of Northern Europe. They are shipped to all of the world’s best restaurants—except ones in the United States.
Since 2010, a trade barrier has prevented European oysters, clams, and mollusks from coming to American shores. It also prevents Europeans from importing shellfish grown in the U.S. That means no French oysters at the Four Seasons in Chicago, the Ritz-Carlton in Miami, or any other venue where patrons would shell out top dollar for the bivalves that sustained Roman emperors, Russian czars, and Marie Antionette.
“We are already ready to start shipping,” Alleaume told me in 2016. “And they, the Americans, they are ready to sell us their oysters.”
Alleaume’s wait may soon be over. In early February, the European Union (E.U.) and the U.S. agreed to end the trade ban as a gradual process slated to start at the end of this month.
Until 2010, shellfish purveyors enjoyed a fairly robust trade across the pond. Farms in Washington state, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts sent millions of pounds of clams to Spain—where they’re a staple in paella.
The trade barrier started because of a difference in how the E.U. and the U.S. tested their shellfish. The E.U. tested the actual shellfish while American regulators tested the water in which the shellfish grew. Worrying that E.U. oysters could bring norovirus and other pathogens to the U.S. that were present in their waters, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned all E.U. shellfish. And European regulators returned the favor.
Since then, shellfish growers on both sides of the Atlantic have been working with trade representatives to resolve the situation. Delicate negotiations led to audit
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