Published: 10:59, 15 July 2003
A BUSINESSMAN has dismissed a scientific study on the oyster industry as unwanted scaremongering.
John Bayes, who runs the Seasalter Shellfish oyster hatchery in Whitstable, says he is "unimpressed" by research carried out by the University of London that claims to reveal that a common industrial chemical causes sexual deformities in oysters.
The paper, by Dr Helen Nice, says the oyster industry could be at risk because offspring are being produced that do not survive to breed themselves.
The problem chemical Nonylphenol is said to interfere with the hormones of animals. It is discharged through sewage effluent.
Dr Nice says: "The Pacific oyster plays a vital role in many food webs and is commercially important worldwide. These results are worrying, not only because of the damage to the oysters themselves, but also because this chemical may well be affecting other organisms sharing their environment."
She concludes: "We clearly need further research to find out exactly what harm this chemical does and if it can harm people."
But Mr Bayes, who collaborated with the research team when they exposed oyster larvae to the industrial chemical, said: "I have no confidence in the findings of this scientific experiment and therefore cannot support it.
"So far as I can see, there is nothing in the research to imply this could be a problem. We have never encountered this in oysters at Seasalter Shellfish. The research work needs to be repeated. Much more work needs to be done.
"What I can say is that there is absolutely no threat to the oyster industry. This is nothing more than scaremongering. I am unimpressed with what they have produced.
"If it is not one alarming story about food, it is another these days. If the Food Standards Agency can find a problem, they will. Not that long ago it was the cockle industry under threat.
"What it needs is someone to sue when these reports come out. I have a feeling we would not be bothered by them anymore."
Oysters are known for their ability to change sex from one season to the next, but they are either male or female, not both.
The research indicates that nearly a third of the larvae that survived treatment with the pollutant developed hermaphrodite adults (both sex organs present) but there were no hermaphrodites in the control oysters that were not exposed to the pollutant.
Mr Bayes' dismissal of the research will be of major comfort to restaurant owners in Whitstable whose reputations have been built on delivering some of the most succulent oysters in Britain to table.