United Kingdom National Reference Laboratory for marine biotoxins

Part of: Veterinary drug residues and marine biotoxins

AFBI Stormont is the United Kingdom National Reference Laboratory for marine biotoxins

The Marine Biotoxin Unit

The Marine Biotoxin Unit of the Chemical and Immunodiagnostic Sciences Branch (CISB) at AFBI Stormont undertakes biotoxin monitoring of classified shellfish beds on behalf of Food Standards Agency (FSA).

In April 2008, AFBI was awarded the contract to provide UK marine biotoxin National Reference Laboratory (NRL) services to the FSA. The purpose of these pages is to provide information on the role of AFBI as NRL.


Filter-feeding bivalve molluscs, e.g. mussels and scallops, can accumulate naturally occurring biotoxins produced by certain marine algae. European Union (EU) Regulations stipulate that bivalve molluscs for human consumption are regularly monitored for biotoxins and lay down the maximum permitted levels of these toxins in shellfish placed on the market.

The competent authority within the United Kingdom responsible for the implementation of these regulations is the FSA.

Monitoring is currently restricted to three biotoxin groups:

  • Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP)
  • Amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP)
  • Diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP)

In addition, production and relaying areas for bivalve molluscs must also be periodically monitored to check for the presence of potentially toxin-producing plankton.

The competent authority is responsible for designating a NRL which co-ordinates the activities of other national testing laboratories and represents the views of the Member State laboratories at the European level. Information on the designation and responsibilities of reference laboratories is contained within Regulation (EU) 2017/625.

Core Requirements of a National Reference Laboratory

The UK-NRL for Marine Biotoxins is appointed by the FSA to carry out the following requirements and duties, as set out in Article 101 of Regulation (EU) 2017/625:

  • Collaborate with the Community Reference Laboratory.
  • Co-ordinate the activities of official laboratories responsible for the analysis of samples.
  • Where appropriate, organise comparative tests between the official national laboratories and ensure an appropriate follow-up of such comparative testing.
  • Ensure the dissemination to the competent authority and official national laboratories of information that the Community Reference Laboratory supplies.
  • Provide scientific and technical assistance to the competent authority for the implementation of co-ordinated control plans
  • Be responsible for carrying out other specific duties as agreed with the Competent Authority