05/12/2009

Will New Zealand burn while ERMA fiddles?

 

GE Free NZ in Food and Environment understands that officials at the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) have been going "under the radar" and rubber-stamping amendments to regulatory approvals at the GM facilities of both AgResearch and Plant and Food.

These fiddles are being made under section 67A of the Hazardous Substances and New Organism Act (HSNO), away from public scrutiny, and have resulted in a loss of control over who is responsible for conducting GM experiments.

"It appears that many of the "development" approvals are so generic that ERMA do not even know what they are approving, or who is in control. In some instances they have then allowed additional amendments which further dilute any safety measures that the public have been lulled into believing have been put in place," said Claire Bleakley, President of GE Free NZ in food and environment.

These under-the-radar regulatory changes have been highlighted following the most recent containment-breach of GM plants (1) which is now being investigated by Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF).

The contamination discovery has been further complicated by the GM construct being found to have no match for ERMA approved research; calling into question whether this event is contamination from a “third party”.

“The public have been promised strict containment as the basis for research but has been seriously let down by ERMA, the official GM regulator. ERMA have failed in their responsibility, and have approved generic applications that contain a vast library of elements without knowing the exact constructs,” said Claire Bleakley.

“It is not good enough to try and blame third parties when ERMA has allowed changes to regulatory controls under HSNO 67A amendments which have effectively given GM laboratories carte blanche to mix and match any genetic element to produce anything, anytime.”

“It appears that ERMA has been allowing statutory boundaries to be stretched to breaking point and ignoring outside expertise on agronomic performance. This breach has revealed ERMA decisions are not looking after New Zealand’s interests but endangering New Zealand’s agriculture and environmental security,” said Ms Bleakley.

“ERMA and MAF must close all facilities conducting GM research and follow the statutory guidelines. These require clear identification and expression of each individual construct to be provided if laboratory work is to continue, rather than the carte blanche approval of any genetic engineering event.”

ENDS

Claire Bleakley +64-6-3089842/ 027 348 6731

Jon Carapiet 0210507681

References

(1) The most recent breach of containment at Lincoln involves Aribidopsis thaliana plant (Mouse-eared Cress) which is a common weed that has small white flowers and can produce up to 10000 seeds. This plant has a very short life cycle - 6 weeks from germination to seed production, producing up to five generations per year. If the plant contains herbicide-tolerant genes it will not die even when regular spraying around the laboratory grounds is conducted. Studies show that the Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) can pollinate with mustard (brassica napus) which can then cross with the food brassica like cabbage and cauliflower.


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