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The Hunt for Red Tide Toxins

The Hunt for Red Tide Toxins

Whether that tempting dish of shellfish is safe to eat or not could rely on new assaying techniques being discussed in Nelson this month.

More than 100 scientists – mainly from Asia and Pacific countries under the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) umbrella – gather in Nelson from 26 -30 November to share information on recent developments in the field of assay technologies for “red tide” toxins.

The 2003 HABTech Workshop has attracted some of the world’s leading laboratory and food safety experts to review developments in analytical methods for marine biotoxins produced by harmful algal blooms (HABs), called “red tides” because they are often coloured.

The workshop, based at Nelson’s Rutherford Hotel, will increase awareness and technical capability for ensuring the safety of seafood, with an emphasis on monitoring programmes. The workshop programme is geared to laboratory personnel, scientists and seafood quality regulators from government and industry.

With algal blooms a regular feature in New Zealand waters, HABTech 2003 is supported by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology.

Minister for Research Science and Technology – also Minister of Fisheries – Pete Hodgson, said, “Seafood is our fourth biggest export earner after dairy, meat and forestry. We expect the industry to keep growing, with marine farming becoming increasingly important.” “Quality will be crucial. Our seafood industry's stated aim is for New Zealand to be, ‘the preferred supplier of high quality seafood products to discerning world markets’. To achieve that we need two key things: leading edge testing and monitoring technologies, and a high level of international cooperation.”

The workshop is being organised by Nelson’s Cawthron Institute, with assistance from Dr Michael A. Quilliam of the National Research Council of Canada’s Institute of Marine Biosciences. Dr Quilliam has spearheaded the APEC-funded research project which started in 2000 and culminates with HABTech 2003.

“HABTech provides practical information on developments in analytical methods and reference standards for harmful algal species, and for marine biotoxins in shellfish and other seafood products. These new methods could see the establishment of a global assaying standard,” he said.

For mice, HABTech is also a major event. “The days of sacrificing lab mice in their hundreds to detect toxins in shellfish could be over,” said Dr Quilliam. “Technology can now take over.”

During HABTech, dedicated laboratory areas will be set up to accommodate a range of assays and techniques, and experts will demonstrate some of the latest developments in their fields.

Visits to the centre of the nearby Marlborough Sounds mussel industry and a local shellfish processing factory are also planned.

Science Minister Pete Hodgson said that cooperating and sharing of information was crucial to achieving global standards for marine biotoxin measurement.

“I am confident that HABTech 2003 will make significant progress towards this end.”

Following HABTech 2003, New Zealand’s scientific profile will be raised again in March 2004, when APEC science ministers gather in Christchurch for the fourth APEC Science Ministers’ Conference.

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