Researchers help preserve Australian seafood exports into Europe

Researchers from Tasmania and South Australia have demonstrated to the European Union that a proposed maximum limit of inorganic arsenic in seafood was not naturally achievable – and it has helped prevent potential impacts on Australian seafood exports into Europe.

The researchers are involved in SafeFish, a program that provides technical advice to support Australia’s seafood trade and market access negotiations, and helps resolve trade barriers.

SafeFish is a collaboration of Australian seafood experts that deal with food safety, and trade and market access issues affecting the nation’s seafood. It is funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), and run by a partnership between the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) and the South Australian Research and Development Institute.

SafeFish was recently informed that the European Union (EU) was planning to introduce a new maximum limit for inorganic arsenic in fish, crustaceans and bivalve molluscs as part of proposed changes to its food safety standards. The EU used the ‘as low as reasonably achievable’, or ALARA, principle to set the proposed standard for inorganic arsenic, which many countries follow to keep potential hazards in our food supply as low as possible.

“Some seafood can be a relatively high source of inorganic arsenic compared to other foods, but it’s the overall consumption of inorganic arsenic that’s important,” said Dr Alison Turnbull, SafeFish Program Manager, and IMAS Fish Health, Biosecurity and Seafood Safety Program Leader. “It’s difficult to attribute health impacts to one type of food group.

“Generally, most Australian seafood products would be able to meet the EU’s proposed limits. However, some seafood, including oysters, rock lobster and prawns, naturally accumulate inorganic arsenic and these often wouldn’t meet the proposed limits.”

SafeFish worked with seafood industry stakeholders to draft a submission detailing the levels of inorganic arsenic commonly found in our seafood, which the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry used in their submission to the EU.

“The proposed maximum limit was substantially lower than the limit set for Australian seafood,” Dr Turnbull said. “It was also below inorganic arsenic levels seen in some exported Australian seafood products, and much lower than in Asian countries where we also export seafood.

“Because of this, the proposal would have likely resulted in trade implications for exports of Australian oysters, rock lobster and prawns into Europe.

“Due to these concerns, we argued that the EU’s highly precautionary proposal was beyond what was ‘reasonably achievable’ under the ALARA principle. The EU reviewed our submission, and those from other countries, and seafood was not included in the final food safety standard changes.

“This is a huge win for SafeFish and it shows the national and international benefits that our research can have on the Australian seafood sector and its access to export trade markets.”

Since January 2020, 2,500 tonnes of Australian seafood have been exported to the EU, including abalone, oysters, eel, mullet, Murray Cod, octopus, Patagonian Toothfish, prawns, scallops, trout, tuna, Yellowtail Kingfish and Western Rock Lobster.

Find out more about SafeFish, the South Australian Research and Development Institute and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.


  • Top right: Prawns
  • Middle left: Blacklip Abalone (Photo: NRE Tasmania)
  • Middle right: Commercial Scallops
  • Bottom: Natural oysters

Published 22 May 2023

Authorised by the Executive Director, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
7 July, 2023