29/06/2009

MAF fails in safeguards over GMO financial liability

 

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) have finalized their report on the irresponsible breaches at the site of a GE Brassica trial [1]. The release of the report is yet to come.

Soon after the GMF06001 GE brassica breach was discovered [2], GE-Free NZ submitted a request for a formal reassessment highlighting the risks from flowering and three significant ERMA Controls that were broken [3]. GE Free (NZ) were asked to withdraw the application until ERMA and MAF had finished their investigations or pay $500 to have the reassessment heard.

"Even though the breaches were very serious and threatened our farming industry, we decided to withdraw the reassessment application pending the investigation, trusting the authorities to take the breaches seriously,” says Claire Bleakley of GE Free NZ in food and environment

MAF Investigation and Diagnostic Centre found that there were breaches of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO). MAF have found that the field test management team failed to comply with the controls set down by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA). MAF did not find that these breaches were a ‘high risk’ and have decided to write a formal warning to Plant and Food field test manager.

"MAF needs a house keeper; it is not the first time GE rubbish has been swept under the carpet. It appears that the report turns blind eye to the systemic breakdown that involves top management, regulatory agencies and the monitoring and enforcement inspectors,” says Claire Bleakley.

“It is of great concern that MAF has backed off a thorough testing regime in this non-compliance event.

The field trial where the breaches occurred has been voluntarily shut down and five years of monitoring, pesticide application and field management are to be conducted.

ERMA has also written a report which will be presented to the Authority on the Thursday 2nd July. Information received by GE Free (NZ) under the Official Information Act (OIA) on the experimental GE brassica indicates breaches went ‘unnoticed’ by management and inspectors, involved in overseeing the safety of the trial, for up to eight months prior. GE-Free NZ is adamant that ERMA should deal with the necessary monetary penalties in their report.

"Monetary liabilities are required [4] and serve to act as a deterrent to the repeated negligent attitudes of the GE researchers and management. If they fail to address the need for financial instruments to motivate compliance, this will be complicity at its worst, especially as the cancelled GE experiment and GE seed related to it, has just been given another development approval.”

“We are dismayed at the hypocrisy of the agencies. The HSNO Act promises safeguards to the public, and this must include protection from potentially catastrophic financial risk. Yet ERMA and MAF regulators constantly water these protections down and excuse potentially disastrous breaches,” she says.

"They give the message to those using GE, that breaches of the rules are OK. Applicants can get away with it by just coming back and reapplying. The Authorities are supposed enforce standards and seek to avoid serious biosecurity breaches. The release of GMO's in the environment is unacceptable in our environment and in law, the omissions point to serious questions as to why the problems were not addressed under the monetary liability requirements of HSNO?”

ENDS:

Claire Bleakley 027 3486731 / 06-3089842

Jon Carapiet 021 0507681

References –

[1] MAF e-mail to Steffan Browning

[2] Press releases on Brassica failure - www.gefree.org.nz

[3] Decision Controls GMF06001

1.8 Brassica oleracea plants shall be prevented from producing open flowers in the field test site. Plants identified as initiating bolting must either be immediately moved back into a containment structure (control 1.4) or killed (control 1.12).

6.3 During the period when GM brassica’s are present in the field test site, the site shall be monitored to detect the onset of bolting or early flower opening using a scientifically validated method and staff appropriately trained in that method. Monitoring intervals shall be appropriate to the developmental stages of the brassica’s to detect the onset of bolting or early flower opening. Any plants detected as initiating bolting or with early flower opening will be contained as set out in control 1.8.

6.5 At the end of each growing season, the entire field test site shall be monitored monthly to detect any GM volunteer plants. A log of these monitoring events shall be maintained and it shall record the date, details of any GM Brassica plants found and any action taken. Any volunteer plants shall be removed and killed in accordance with control 1.12


[4] Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act - Section 114, 115 ,116.

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