The European Commission has proposed new EU legislation on the health of farmed fish and shellfish (molluscs) and the control of certain diseases in the aquaculture sector.

The proposed legislation aims to simplify and upgrade existing legislation, in order to improve the general aquaculture health situation across Europe. It also aims to better facilitate safe trade in aquaculture animals and products, and to boost the competitiveness of this important sector for the EU. A central aspect of the proposal is a shift in focus to preventing disease occurrence at each point in the production chain rather than dealing with it only when an outbreak occurs.

"Having healthy animals is fundamental to Europe's aquaculture sector, which generates millions of euros annually. Disease outbreaks undermine consumers' confidence in the safety and wholesomeness of farmed fish and shellfish. They can also devastate the stocks of farms affected by them. Prevention is the best cure, and that is what our legislation aims at," said Markos Kyprianou, commissioner for health and consumer protection.

Aquaculture is an important sector in the EU, with a production value of around
€2.58bn (US$3.16bn). The proposed directive responds to the need to update current animal health legislation for aquatic animals, taking into account the developments in aquaculture, as well as international experience and scientific knowledge. A major focus of the proposal is on the prevention of disease by applying better controls throughout the production chain. This approach should reduce the economic losses caused by diseases and restrictions on trade. Measures are also laid down to protect disease-free farms from the introduction of pathogens and to prevent exotic diseases from entering the EU.

A key objective of this proposal is to simplify and modernise existing legislation and procedures on aquatic animal health. The proposed directive brings the rules for placing aquaculture animals and products on the market in line with the standards of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE). It aims to both improve intra-community trade and make it easier for third countries to trade with the EU by providing harmonised, clear-cut rules on aquaculture.