The decision to halt further trials of GE brassica will benefit New Zealand and protect our multi-billion dollar position as a clean, green, natural and safe food-producer.
But remaining plans for trials of GE onions and AgResearch's proposals for indefinite farming of GE animals to produce pharmaceuticals could still de-rail New Zealand's economy, and damage our export reputation forever.
The decision to halt the GE brassica trials comes following an internal report by Crown Research Institute (CRI) Plant and Food on the biosecurity breach at the trial site.
The report recommends that the brassica site should be closed down immediately. No further plantings are to be made and a new team of personnel are to be put in place with the requisite experience to monitor the site over one year for volunteer GE plants.
The breach at the site was identified in December and was initially denied by regulator Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and Plant and Food. However photographic evidence forced them to admit the biosecurity controls had not been followed and at least one GE plant had been left to flower in breach of their permit to conduct field trials.(1)
“The internal report reflects the seriousness of the breach and we are very pleased that the trial is to be closed down,” said Claire Bleakley."It is vital that they invest in other research that 'works with the grain of nature', and protects our international reputation."
The report has left the trial manager as the scapegoat, but the whole internal support and team leadership as well as regulatory agencies are implicated. Excuses of over-work, under resourcing of the project manager, and bad advice on how plants perform in the field shows a lack of enforcement and expertise by many people involved in the trial.
This debacle highlights the risk to New Zealand's multi-billion dollar export reputation resulting from the the fundamentally flawed nature of the ERMA and MAF process of monitoring and enforcement. ERMA had wrongly claimed that the expertise of the GE team made any breach “highly improbable”. In its decision approving the trials The ERMA Authority set ambiguous and broad controls that were open to gross exploitation by Crop and Food managers. The inspection agency MAF overlooked enforcement protocols and accepted verbal assurances of site events, without visual confirmation.
“Other people involved in this trial should be held accountable for this breach and the CRI should loose all its permits to carry out GE trials. This is not an individual staff fault but shows a systemic laissez-faire attitude that puts New Zealand at risk and goes all the way to the top. This culture treats well-founded concerns about GE technology with derision and must stop immediately.”
ERMA and MAF reports due out later this week must take the breach by their staff and the CRI as seriously as Plant and Food have done, and follow through with the appropriate HSNO Act penalties.
Claire Bleakley - 06-3089842/ 027 348 6731
Jon Carapiet - 0210507681
(1) NEW ZEALAND: SAFETY BREACH DURING GM TRIAL
Press releases on the trial breach – www.gefree.org.nz
(2) Plant and Food internal report on the GE brassica field trial breach.