Thursday, July 29, 1999 Published at 18:14 GMT 19:14 UK
GM salmon prompts safety pledge
The growth of salmon speeded up in the experiment
The government has issued assurances on food safety after renewed controversy over tests on genetically-modified salmon.
The tests started in 1996 and lasted about 18 months with the blessing of a number of government departments under the Conservative administration.
The issue re-emerged in the House of Commons when Labour MP John Ruddock asked Scottish Secretary John Reid to reveal details of the tests.
Mr Reid told the MP 50 fish were grown during the study and were then destroyed.
"The fish were grown in a land-based containment facility for up to one year. Approximately 50 of the fish grew at four times the normal rate, with no sign of abnormalities."
Amid fresh concerns over the tests, Mr Reid told BBC News: "These were commercial experimentations, held under strict control, with no government money and started after the last government allowed them.
And Mr Reid said the Health and Safety Executive is notified of experiments such as those carried out in 1996.
The privately funded research was carried out by Otter Ferry Salmon, on Loch Fyne on Scotland's west coast.
A Canadian company approached the firm with the idea for developing fast growing fish - reared in tanks on land under strictly controlled conditions.
When the tests were approved they attracted a high profile, prompting the Scottish Salmon Growers' Association to distance itself from them.
A policy was drawn up by the association, claiming that "in accordance with sound environmental practice" transgenic salmon production would be totally rejected.
London backbench MP Joan Ruddock tabled the question on the tests after hearing "persistent rumours" about GM fish studies.
That could double the turnover of salmon raised in tanks - and potentially double the profit.
Ms Ruddock said: "The results were obviously what they were looking for. If you can cut the costs of production and get the fish to market faster, you can maximise profits.
"That's obviously the route that many companies are trying to go down. It's the same argument for increased yields with genetically-modified crops."
Scottish Green MSP Robin Harper warned of the potential consequences of the research.
He said: "This fish, if it escaped into the north Atlantic environment could do untold damage to the ecology both of the north Atlantic and Scottish salmon rivers."
David Patterson, technical director of Otter Ferry Seafish, as the company is now known, said there were fears at the time that the Norwegians could adopt the technology.
He said the Scottish Office was worried about domestic producers losing their competitive edge to countries employing the technique.
However, nine salmon producing countries agreed to outlaw GM fish and Mr Hamilton said there was little domestic interest in the process.