- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

ARCACHON, France (Agence France-Presse) — Oyster sales were banned in one of France’s most prestigious oyster-producing regions as autopsies were performed on two persons who died after eating the shellfish.

The persons, ages 61 and 77, were rushed to a hospital in Arcachon in southwest France in separate incidents Sunday and Tuesday, and died after a few hours of treatment.

Doctors said both had recently eaten Arcachon Bay oysters, though no conclusions could be drawn until the autopsy results were released.

“It is impossible not to consider the link, even if there is no proof as yet,” said Didier Houssin, the director-general of the French health service.

The government on Aug. 31 banned consumption of Arcachon Bay oysters after tests revealed the presence of an unidentified toxin. The ban was renewed yesterday on the basis of new tests.

The two persons are presumed to have eaten oysters collected before Aug. 27 — the cutoff date set in the government’s ban — and kept in storage. These oysters are now prohibited.

Arcachon Bay’s oyster growers were furious about the ban — the third in a year and a half — which they said was based on outdated and unreliable “mouse” tests. Under these, mice are injected with oyster extract to see whether they live.

The two deaths left oyster growers in a state of shock but insistent there is still no proven link with oysters.

“We are completely aghast,” said Marc Druart, head of the Arcachon oyster growers’ association. “To my knowledge, in the world, no one has ever died of oysters.

“Yes, there have been cases of people who suffer intestinal problems. That does happen from time to time. But no one has ever died. What’s vital for us is that we are cleared of suspicion.”

Mr. Houssin said it could be several days before the autopsy results are known, especially if rare toxins are found to be the cause.

About 1,000 people are employed in 370 small-scale oyster parks in Arcachon Bay, a virtual inland lake in the Gironde area southwest of Bordeaux. The 10,000 tons of oysters produced every year — about 7 percent of national output — are among the most prized in France.

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