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FAO is publishing this Food and Nutrition Paper on Marine Biotoxins in an effort to support the exchange of scientific information on an important subject of concern for food safety worldwide. Marine biotoxins represent a significant and expanding threat to human health in many parts of the world. The impact is visible in terms of human poisoning or even death ollowing the consumption of contaminated shellfish or fish, as well as mass killings of fish and shellfish, and the death of marine animals and birds.

This paper provides an extensive review of different aspects of five shellfish poisoning syndromes (paralytic shellfish poisoning, diarrhoeic shellfish poisoning, amnesic shellfish poisoning, neurologic shellfish poisoning, azaspiracid shellfish poisoning), as well as one fish poisoning syndrome (ciguatera fish poisoning). Various aspects of these poisoning syndromes are discussed in detail including the causative toxins produced by marine organisms, chemical structures and analytical methods of the toxins, habitat and occurrence of the toxin producing organisms, case studies and existing regulations. Based on this analysis, risk assessments are carried out for each of these different toxins, and recommendations elaborated to better manage these risks in order to reduce the harmful effect of these toxins on public health.

Work undertaken during this study has underlined the difficulties of performing a scientific-based risk assessment given the lack of data on the toxicology and exposure of diverse marine toxins. The allowance levels currently valid for phycotoxins are generally based on data derived from poisoning incidents in people. However, these data are seldom accurate and complete, and usually restricted to acute toxicity. Therefore, increased attention must be paid to expanding and improving initiatives to monitor, detect and share information on marine biotoxins in the future in order to reduce the public health risks associated with the consumption of contaminated shellfish and fish.

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