10/09/2007

Breach of Protocols in GE Field Trial

 

GE Free NZ (in food and environment) is demanding Ministerial action over revelations of a major breach of protocols involving a field trial of GE onions being undertaken by Crop and Food Research.

The "Roundup-Ready" (RR) GE Onion trial was approved for ten years under “very strict” controls by ERMA (The Environmental Risk Management Authority) in 2003. Because onions produce flowers every two years (biennial) the trial was given approval for one season in the field but then the bulbs were to be relocated to a glasshouse where pollination and seed collection could take place in full containment. This was intended to prevent spread of GE plant material into the environment. Other controls (7.5) included the requirement to use plants rather than seeds in the trial plots, with the aim of preventing accidental spillage of GE seed.

Now it has come to light that Crop and Food Research and ERMA have been continually changing the controls under section 67A of the HSNO Act whilst avoiding public input and the advice of independent scientists.

The changes to these controls came after the Institutional Biological Safety Committee (IBSC) attached to Crop and Food Research went beyond its jurisdiction and allowed the importation of GE Round-up Ready seed from the United States.

“We have no idea why this seed was imported. Perhaps it is because of the failure of the trial plants to produce seed, but it may also be because the trial is being used to deliberately grow GE seed for the USA off-season,” says Claire Bleakley of GE Free NZ (in food and environment).

“Whatever the reason, the illegal decision by the IBSC to approve the seeds for planting raises major concerns given the law requires such decisions be made only by ERMA.”

Furthermore, audits undertaken by MAF reveal there has been incomplete record-keeping and no staff training despite ERMA's evaluation and review report identifying staff- inexperience as a risk factor in the trials.

The 2006 Annual Report on GE Onions (GMF 03001) also reveals the GE trial is a dismal failure and barely viable.

"The onion crop was devastated by thrips, there was no reduction in pesticide applications, poor bulb formation and no storage capacity. It is shocking that taxpayers' money is being used to keep this illegal field test afloat,” says Mrs. Bleakley.

“The continued watering down of the original controls, and the inability by ERMA to properly audit and enforce its responsibitities, shows an unacceptable lack of transparency and robustness. It represents a real threat to our economy, and the environment that must be addressed.”

GE Free NZ (in food and environment) is demanding the Minister of the Environment immediately use his "call in" powers to investigate the debacle.

“We ask the Minister to call in this trial immediately and carry out a complete independent investigation into the illegalities that are now revealed to have riddled this experiment throughout.”
ENDS:

Claire Bleakley (06) 3089842; Mob: 027 348 6731

References:

ERMA E&R report and decision, www.ermanz.govt.nz

Institutional Biological Safety Committee (IBSC) decision on GMO04/CFR002.
Point 2 & 3.

Annual report to ERMA GMF 03001 June 2006, Colin Eady.

2006-07 Six monthly Audits by MAF.

Letters providing information released under the Official Information Act .

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