05/06/2007

Ministry for Environment takes 3 months to Respond on Flawed GE Review

 


The Ministry for the Environment has taken three months to respond to questions raised about serious flaws in a scientific review that in the meantime has been used to justify ERMA approving a GE field-trial.


GE-Free NZ notified The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) about the flaws in the review process when they first emerged. MfE is the policy making body responsible for the HSNO Act. They also oversee and have auditing powers over the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA).

GE Free (NZ) wrote to the MfE in March to express concerns about how ERMA was implementing the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act methodology and asking for urgent clarification of certain points.

The concerns raised were over the Evaluation and Review report conducted by ERMA to draw together all evidence from the applicants and submitters, and then used by ERMA to approve field trials of GE Brassica.

It was discovered that the independent reviewer of the report -engaged to ensure a robust process - said in her review of the section on human health and safety it seems fine but did not analyze in detail. Further she was not provided with the public submissions to the application. Instead only the final report which expunged many of the issues raised in relation to the application, was assessed. The process resulted in ERMA ignoring scientific data on the deleterious effects of Bt, including poisoning of animals overseas, and approving the development of Bt crops in New Zealand.

"We received the evaluation under the Official Information Act (OIA) and found that the review report was a series of recommendations on grammar and sentence structure," says Claire Bleakley of GE Free NZ ( in food and environment).

"We raised the alarm at the time, and only now have received a letter from the Ministry for the Environment to say that they are sorry not to have replied to our concerns three months after the letter was sent."

"This is again a situation of the public being ignored and sidelined in what is supposed to be an open and transparent process. It seems only when a threat of legal action is made are responses given," she says.

"When will the public get heard, and how can the public have confidence in the process? We do not believe that New Zealand taxpayers money should be used decade upon decade for GE research without someone checking to prove it is safe," says Mrs Bleakley.

The ERMA process has dismissed and ignored scientific reports of deaths from Bt plants saying that such data would only be considered if after another ten years, the plants are to go be commercialised. Such an absurdity is proof of fundamental flaws in the decision-making process.

"Only by selectively ignoring data has ERMA been able to rubber stamp this GE trial," says Mrs Bleakley. "We are certainly looking at grounds for legal action to address what may best be descibed as a system-failure."

Ends
Claire Bleakley (06) 3089842 027 3486731

REFERENCES
21st March 2007

Dear ,

We are writing to you in relation to the earlier meeting we had with you in relation to GE crops. I am writing to MfE as you are the overseer of ERMA.

As you are aware ERMA has been assessing application GMF06001, I am attaching the GE Free (NZ) submission.

I would like to express my concerns over the application, the E&R report and its considerations and dismissal of risks associated with this trial GMF 06001.

The HSNO Act requires that under the precautionary approach (sec 7) risks to the human population must be taken into account.

The HSNO interpretation (sec 2) of “effects” considered must include –
Potential and probable,
positive or adverse,
temporary or permanent,
past present and future,
acute or chronic,
cumulative which arises over time and
economic

The evaluators of GMF 06001 in ERMA have chosen to exclude the known risk of “future” effects, exclude economic implications relevant to the long term viability of the research. Exclude the existing evidence overseas of environmental and health impacts of this GE trait.

This study has already completed research for the New Zealand context, yet we have had no published data on outcomes. For ERMA to exclude the broadscale public concern, the ERMA process is becoming a farce and is likely to further exacerbate a collapse in public confidence in the regulatory system.

Please could you explain to me why evidence of severe poisoning effects of Bt plants on animals and humans, cannot be considered by ERMA?

Is ERMA able to require prior ingestion testing be carried out as part of the approval? If not what action is proposed by the Ministry to address such a gaping hole in the enabling legislation, and given the obvious flawed process described above shouldn’t all applications be suspended till some sensible approach to assessment is in place?

It surely is only a precaution to test for safety of the GM plants, especially after 3 field trials have been conducted, before starting a further 10 years of trials where the ingestion safety of the food plant is in doubt before the trial begins?

On 9th March 2007, confirming the 2006 episode in another region in India, news of livestock grazing on Bt cotton leading to illness and death, prompting the Government to warn farmers not to graze their stock on harvested Bt cotton fields. The 2006 case in point is written down in the submission attached (p.10).

The ERMA evaluation and dismissal of submitters concerns in this episode is alarmingly apparent. I point to submitters concerns being labelled “popular press” 7.2.6, 7.2.8 however most submitters are not able to source the scientific articles that the press is commenting on. However in our submission the full articles written by Veterinary practitioners was documented (p.15).

This report has not accounted for the risks that scientific research has identified. It has totally dismissed submitters concerns and will if not addressed be subject to legal consideration as it stands.

Yours sincerely,
Claire Bleakley.

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