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NZ shellfish farmers to save time, money from new toxin test

New test for serious algal toxin threat saves time and money for NZ shellfish farmers

By Fiona Rotherham

Jan. 14 (BusinessDesk) - The most serious algal toxin threat to New Zealand shellfish can now be detected faster and at around a quarter of the previous cost through a new test method likely to be introduced this year.

The test for paralytic shellfish toxin (PST), the most serious of shellfish poisoning syndromes caused by harmful algae, has been developed by New Zealand’s Cawthron Institute in collaboration with the UK’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science.

Cawthron researchers developed the world’s first instrumental test method for marine toxins in seafood using marine biotoxins it sells for more than $100,000 per teaspoonful to laboratories worldwide after some people fell sick from eating shellfish affected by algal blooms in the 1990s.

The partnership has developed a new test that reduces the turnaround time for results from that method from days to hours and cuts the cost to some $300 per test from about $1200. It not only continues to protect consumers, but could allow affected farms to return to harvesting more quickly, supporting Aquaculture New Zealand's target of boosting annual revenue in what is the world’s fastest-growing primary industry, from $400 million to $1 billion by 2025.

New Zealand farmers test waters around commercial farms and of shellfish flesh for signs of algae and toxins on a weekly basis. Under the current PST testing method, a relatively quick screen sample is taken but if that proves positive, a second confirmatory test is required to give an accurate level of the toxin in order to determine if it’s safe to harvest.

Aquaculture NZ shellfish quality programme executive officer Colin Johnston said because of the cost of the second test, industry players would typically just stop harvesting and keep an eye on the affected area until the levels dropped under another screening test.

Cawthron’s Tim Harwood, co-leader of the Safe Seafood NZ programme, said the big gain with the new test is only one analysis is needed to get a complete assessment, saving time and money and giving greater certainty to industry players.

Harwood said before 2010 PST blooms weren’t that common but since then there have been a couple of hotspots in the Marlborough Sounds and Bay of Plenty that have caused problems for the export industry.

Cawthron hopes to begin using the new test later this year once the results have been published in a peer-reviewed journal and final approval given by the Ministry for Primary Industries.


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