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Escape of GE salmon eggs 'highly likely'

19 June 2001

Jeanette Fitzsimons said today the evidence shows it is highly likely that eggs from genetically engineered salmon escaped into the wild during the NZ King Salmon experiment at Kaituna.

"Information released under the Official Information Act states that the average egg size was 4-5mm.

"The mesh size meant to keep eggs from being fertilized and escaping into the river was only 4mm. I can't see how anyone can argue that they know or believe eggs didn't escape during the experiment, given that the mesh and many of the eggs were the same size."

The document recently obtained by the Green Party is a report of a visit to the NZ King Salmon Hatchery by the Environmental Risk Management Authority chief executive Bas Walker on 9 December 1999, one day prior to the reassessment of the application by ERMA on 10 December 1999.

Ms Fitzsimons said the report would shake public confidence in ERMA once again.

"When ERMA released their decision to the public, Dr Walker stated that the average egg size was 5-7mm and played down any likelihood of escape. This is at odds with the report from his hatchery visit which gives the average size as 4-5mm and states 'some eggs could therefore pass through the screens, be fertilized and leave the containment facility'.

"ERMA's role should not be to reassure the public by skating over the facts. This is exactly the type of hush-hush attitude which has evolved in British food-safety scares and which has resulted in public mistrust of the very authorities who are taking the decisions and informing the public."

Ms Fitzsimons said the first step by ERMA should be to hear all decisions and reassessments in public.

"The public deserves to know why ERMA decided to change their estimate of how big the average salmon egg is, and why they ignored the initial recommendation that the mesh should be reduced to 2mm, and recommended instead a reduction to 3mm.

"If the King Salmon reassessment had been made in public, the report of this visit would have been part of the public domain. Now we find out that eggs could easily have escaped - yet because of the secrecy, there has been no owning up to this and no commitment to any monitoring of salmon populations in the wild for genetic pollution."

OIA papers are available on request

ENDS


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