GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 2nd November 2003

GE Free NZ calls for Parliamentary Commissioner for Biotechnology: Onion application a disgrace

GE Free NZ in food and environment have major concerns about the lack of due process even before the GE Onions application is even heard. The concerns are so great that we are calling for the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner on Biotechnology as recommended by the Royal Commission on GM.

GE Free NZ considers that the public, who have been continually advised by Marian Hobbs that we can trust ERMA, currently cannot do so with confidence. The GE onion application GMF 03001 is considered the worst application observed over several years. A lack of quality-control in the initial stages of the decision-making process has multiplied the potential for ERMA to make a wrong decision. In addition, ERMA’s failure to adopt verification standards creates a precedent, which affects future decisions but fails to deliver proper process as promised by government. GE Free NZ in food and environment calls on the government to implement the " missing" recommendation of the Royal Commission. Though the recommendations of the Royal Commission are considered to have advantaged the biotech industry those advocating caution, public accountability and contestability, have either been ignored or delayed.

" It is time the Public had the protection of a Parliamentary Commissioner on Biotechnology. As things stand the New Zealand public are being sidelined and abused by an unresponsive system," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment. The key concerns apparent today include:

(1) The application contained a number of inaccuracies. One submitter, Dr Tim Jenkins noted fifteen inaccuracies in the application and he was not alone. It neither stated field test size, nor a list of controls proposed by the applicant.

(2) ERMA states it verified the application on 7 July 2003, six weeks later, the day after public applications closed, ERMA was still requesting information from the applicant. ERMA provided submitters with a sub-standard application, the result of their poor verification process. The incomplete application lacked information crucial to submitters by citing commercial sensitivity to keep it from public scrutiny . Similar research has already been done in joint trials in the US but results have been refused to ERMA because they are " commercially sensitive".

Many of the 1933 submitters, 427 of whom wished to be heard at the hearing, are effectively barred from making representation by ERMA's decision to hear submissions in Christchurch, and are now unable to participate in an issue of importance to this country. GE free NZ in food and environment have serious concerns about the lack of quality of this application, the failure by ERMA to verify this application and the failure to apply legal process. 

These issues have been raised in submissions to ERMA, yet ERMA has shown no inclination to raise verification standards or provide submitters with timely, relevant and complete information. Without a Parliamentary Commissioner for Biotechnology, submitters have few alternatives but to take legal action.

"GE Free NZ in food and environment wants what the Royal Commission recommended and the government promised us: a transparent, contestable and rigorous process, " says Jon Carapiet. "ERMA is clearly not providing this to New Zealanders so we urge government to deliver what it has promised."

Contact Jon Carapiet - 09 815 3370

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