24/06/2011

Minister Must Act On AgResearch Chicanery

 

Documents released under the Official information Act (OIA) to the Dominion Post are a serious reflection on the way AgResearch has sought to cover up their lack of expertise and understanding on issues that are integral to animal and environmental safety, namely horizontal gene transfer.

GE Free NZ asked the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety - Professor Jack Heinemann to simplify a document on Horizontal gene transfer provided by AgResearch. Dr Heinemann presented AgResearch with the draft report on his findings before releasing it to GE Free NZ, asking for comment. Internal OIA documents show AgResearch staff lacked adequate scientific understanding of the serious issues his report raised , and instead went into PR-management mode.

“The scrabble to find scientists to try and discredit the report shows that the public cannot trust AgResearch and their partners. Instead of taking a genuinely scientific approach that is vital to meet their responsibilities to the New Zealand public and economic wellbeing, AgResearch opted for ad-hominem attacks and spin,” said Claire Bleakley president of GE-Free NZ (in food and environment).

GE-Free NZ contacted the AgResearch Biotechnology Manager asking that he recommend referees to comment on the microbial characterisation of offal pits that GE-Free NZ had received under the OIA. Dr. Suttie supplied two referees, however a month later he sent further correspondence asking us to desist from contacting their referees as they had “no intention of ever providing a review of our reports to you.”

“We have tried to engage constructively with AgResearch and participated responsibly in the regulatory regime, but this is a classic case of how 'big business', and scientists with vested interests subvert regulation,” says Claire Bleakley.

"The compromised position of AgResearch biotechnology programme managers shows that the public will never be given honest answers to their questions. It also raises the need to investigate if they are withholding more information that does not forward their agenda and may be putting the national interest at risk."

“The Minister cannot allow this programme to continue given the managers have shown themselves inadequate to meet their responsibilities, and as lacking the necessary scientific expertise. Despite the danger to our economy from escaping GE material these cruel experiments have produced no results from the millions of taxpayer dollars draining from New Zealand's limited R&D funds," said Ms Bleakley. .

We ask that the Minister, who is looking into our concerns over the facility, hasten to look into this serious cover up of information and to prevent vested interests being allowed to endanger our economy. We also ask that he re-instate a robust independent environmental HGT testing regime that was removed by ERMA, who never were presented with this report for evaluation.

Given the importance of the environment and the integrity of our agricultural system we ask him to take action now.

References:

AgResearch stalls 'damaging' report, KIRAN CHUG,Dom Post 23/06/2011

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/5180258/AgResearch-stalls-damaging-report

Microbial Characterisation of Soil in the Offal pits at Agresearch 2004-2009
http://www.gefree.org.nz/assets/Microbial-characterisation-of-soils-from-offal-pits.pdf

Evaluation of Horizontal Gene Transfer monitoring experiments conducted in New Zealand between 2004-2009http//www.organic-systems.org/journal/Vol_6(1)/pdf/6(1)-Heinemann-pp3-19.pdf

ENDS:

Claire Bleakley 06-3089842 / 027 348 7631

Jon Carapiet - 0210507681 - Media Spokesperson

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