Shell Shock |

Shell Shock

We survived Mad Cow Disease and the Unidentifiable Salmonella Scare of 2008. Plenty of corn survived this summer’s Midwestern floods. But the worst may be yet to come: a virulent virus is sweeping through France’s oyster population, with no signs of slowing.

According to Gregory Viscusi at Bloomberg, a virus similar to herpes has taken out 80 percent of France’s oyster population, hitting baby shellfish the hardest. While the virus does not affect humans, or make oysters unsafe to eat, it proves lethal to virtually every shellfish it touches. Experts point to an unusually mild winter, followed by a rainy spring—perfect conditions for the virus to grow and spread. While growers scramble to recover, many have lost hundreds of thousands of oysters, and tens of thousands of euro. It’s a hit that’s hard to recover from.

Since oysters grow in three-year cycles, and the virus struck those about 12 months old, the decimated crop won’t show up in markets until the winter of 2010—when, fears Francois Patsouris, head of the Charente producers’ association, oysters might become “as rare as caviar.” So, while the lag time means that harvestable stocks haven’t been affected yet, it’s only a matter of time before there will be something missing from the Parisian raw bars.

While France is Europe’s largest oyster grower, and the fourth-largest in the world, it rarely exports its crop—largely because internal demand is so high. And, like so many things French, the native source is the preferred one. But since the disease has been thus far confined to France, the country may have to look outside its borders for the huîtres to slurp with lemon and white wine.

Chinese oysters on Parisian ice beds? The day may come.
Gregory Viscusi's full article can be found here; photo courtesy of Allerina and Glen MacLarty on Flickr.


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