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‘Negligible’ worm risk from Europe’s farmed fish

Results of the largest-ever study of European farmed fish show virtually no risk of parasitic worms. Photo: SSPO
Results of the largest-ever study of European farmed fish show virtually no risk of parasitic worms. Photo: SSPO

A Europe-wide study has revealed negligible risk for human health of zoonotic parasitic worms in farmed fish.

Miguel Angel Pardo:
Miguel Angel Pardo: "Great news for European aquaculture". Photo: WSC

The study, conducted by the EU Horizon 2020-funded ParaFishControl project, aimed to demonstrate the absence of zoonotic parasitic worms in European farmed fish, specifically in gilthead sea bream, European sea bass, turbot, Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout and common carp.

Zoonotic parasites are transmitted from animals to humans; zoonotic worms (helminths) can spread to humans when infected fish is consumed raw or partially cooked.

From spring 2016 to winter 2017, more than 7,000 fish were analysed from commercial aquaculture farms throughout Europe, including Croatia, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Spain, and Turkey. No zoonotic parasitic helminths, such as Anisakis, were found in any of the examined fish, at a confidence level of 95-99%, according to a ParaFishControl press release.

‘Great news for aquaculture’

This is the largest study ever conducted in Europe and the results have been even better than expected. “This is great news for European aquaculture,” said Dr Miguel Ángel Pardo from AZTI Tecnalia, ParaFishControl project partner. “Results indicate that consuming fish from European farms presents negligible risk for human health when it comes to zoonotic parasitic worms.”

These results are part of a larger survey of marine and freshwater farmed fish undertaken by ParaFishControl, which aims to improve understanding of fish-parasite interactions and develop innovative solutions and tools to prevent, control and mitigate harmful parasites which affect the main fish species farmed in Europe.

This effort was part of the “Fish Product Safety” work package, led by AZTI in collaboration with six other consortium members from across Europe (Spanish National Research Council, University of Bologna, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, and University of Bergen).

More specific research

Pardo explained the importance of the positive results, which “have led us to design more specific research to be carried out on runts as a potential parasite carrier and the feed as possible transmission vector. This will allow us to assess all the crucial aspects in the infection of fish by zoonotic parasites”.

The study itself will be published in peer-review journals and will be accessible through the ParaFishControl project website.

According to the press release, the results are a significant indicator of the overall success of the project thus far, with the overlying goal of safe and sustainable European seafood clearly being met.

It added that the final outputs of ParaFishControl will allow European farmers to manage their risk at very low levels, which will differentiate high quality European aquaculture products from others worldwide.

A video about ParaFishControl’s work can be found here.

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