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Chinese officials want to send an audit team to the U.S. to check how seafood is tested, but in the meantime they won’t relax the 2-month-old ban on shellfish imported from the West Coast.

Chinese authorities detected inorganic arsenic in a November shipment of geoducks from Washington’s Poverty Bay. That shipment, and another from Ketchikan, Alaska, that was tainted with algae toxin, led China on Dec. 3 to ban all imports of bivalve shellfish harvested in Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Northern California.

The ban has wreaked havoc in the Pacific Northwest shellfish industry, blocking imports to the major market for geoducks right before Friday’s observance of Chinese New Year.

In a letter dated Jan. 23, Chinese officials informed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that Chinese consumers eat the skin and digestive tract, or gutball, of geoduck clams.

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In the U.S., by contrast, only the flesh of a geoduck is considered edible.

The state Department of Health on Jan. 6 found the levels of inorganic arsenic in the flesh of a Poverty Bay geoduck well below China’s standard of 0.5 parts per million.

However, in whole-clam tests that include the skin and gutball, 1 out of 12 did test higher at 0.79 parts per million.

The Chinese letter proposes that an audit team travel to the United States to conduct on-site evaluations of the monitoring and testing done on shellfish by various state, federal and tribal agencies.

“We hoped that the situation would be resolved by now and are doing our best to respond as quickly and thoroughly as possible,” said Tim Church director of communications with the Washington Department of Health, which is working with NOAA and other agencies on the issue.

Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or On Twitter @coralgarnick

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