19/03/2009

New Zealand's Lucky Escape After GE Trial Breach

 

New Zealand has had a lucky escape after MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) found that no escape of GE pollen or contamination of honey is likely to have occured following flowering of GE brassica at the site of the experiments in Lincoln.

In the report issued by MAFBNZ (below), officials say that analysis of both hive locations and bee behaviour, relative to the scant flowering activity at the site, made contamination extremely unlikely, and that brassica pollen will have only travelled a few metres.

"The results of the investigation has to be taken as good news, but only luck has saved New Zealand from a significant threat to our exports and reputation," says Jon Carapiet form GE Free NZ in food and environment.

But it is clear the threat to New Zealand from accidental GE contamination is not being taken seriously enough, and that it is time to halt field trials in this country.

A full enquiry into Plant and Food and how a breach was ever allowed to happen must be conducted. The final outcome should look at whether the organisation should have its permit to plant GE crops rescinded, and at the national benefits of restoring the moratorium on GE commercial release.

No testing of honey or other brassica plants in the area has been conducted, but the livelihoods of beekeepers and farmers living locally have been put at risk.

This incident is a wake-up call for all New Zealand's agricultural, horticultural, organics and honey industries. All these sectors are exposed to financial risk. In the absence of strict liability legislation requiring a bond and acceptance of responsibility by those pushing GE commercialisation, the costs of harm including costs of cleanup and lost exports will fall on innocent farmers and beekeepers to prove.

The commercial threat to New Zealand from GM contamination is well established, and exporters have already had shipments of contaminated products turned away. The push to promote GM animals and crops outside of full containment and credible ethical standards is a clear risk to New Zealand's economic wellbeing.

All New Zealand farmers and food exporters benefit from our reputation for safe, clean, GM-free, and natural production systems. The government needs to immediately act to follow our EU markets and install a moratorium on field tests while creating a sustainable and ethical biotechnology strategy. Investment of valuable research funds into more sustainable conventional and organic systems of production will benefit New Zealand, rather than benefits accruing to overseas speculators.

New Zealand's sustainable biotechnology strategy should include: an end to all external field trials; a commitment to best-practice ethical applications of science; establishing strict liability on those undertaking GE trials or commercial ventures; requiring a bond to be paid to cover clean-up costs and commercial losses resulting from those ventures.
ENDS
Jon Carapiet 0210507681
Claire Bleakley 06-3089842 / 027348 6731

Measures in response to Plant & Food field trial
Press Release: Biosecurity NZ 12 March 2009

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) has evaluated non-compliance with controls at Plant & Food Research - the Lincoln-based crown research institute containment facility where genetically modified (GM) brassica plants had been growing as part of an approved field trial.

Although the MAFBNZ evaluation showed only immature seed pods formed during the duration of the trial, a precautionary approach has been adopted and a programme put in place to reduce any future risk.

MAFBNZ Principal Adviser Doug Lush says there is a very low risk that mature seed may have set within the field trial plot from the flowering, or near flowering of the genetically modified broccoli and kale.

He says the MAFBNZ investigation was wide ranging and included a thorough analysis of the possible range that any pollen or seed could have travelled. Disposal on site, composting and ploughing activities within the trial site were also considered.
“Non-compliance with MAFBNZ’s conditions was found to have occurred at least twice over the year the trial had been conducted,” Mr Lush says. “However, the likelihood of pollen or seed from the field trial being available on any scale or for any significant length of time was extremely low. Wind dispersal of brassica pollen is thought to extend only up to two metres, so wind did not present a significant means of spread. MAFBNZ also considered whether bees could have carried pollen further afield, but analysis of both hive locations and bee behaviour, relative to the scant flowering activity at the site, made this extremely unlikely. The risk posed by other pollinating insects was considered and assessed as very low.”

Mr Lush says all these factors make the risk that genetically modified heritable material has escaped beyond the trial site negligible.

He says MAFBNZ understands the concerns of neighbouring landholders and interested stakeholder groups, and has conducted surveillance for brassica plants to a radius of 100m from the trial plot. No Brassica oleracea plants, capable of forming seed during the risk time period, were found.

“To mitigate the remote possibility that seed might remain in soil at the trial site, we are putting in place a programme of surveillance, herbicide application and cultivation.
This programme will be aligned with Environmental Risk Management Authorities (ERMA) post-harvest monitoring conditions, which are integral to the original trial approval. The programme will continue for at least five years from now at Plant & Food Research’s cost,” Mr Lush says.

“Analysis of laboratory diaries, records, logs and photographs suggests a series of worrying lapses in the conduct of the Plant & Food Research trial. Consequently the audit regime MAFBNZ operates, on behalf of ERMA, for any future trials at Plant & Food Research, Lincoln will be significantly tightened.”
ENDS

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