GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 6th November 2003

Soil tests useless as GE Onions study riddled with flaws

The fact that ERMA’s own Evaluation and Report Team could not identify any environmental testing procedures or research proposed as part of the GE onions trial reveals the project is riddled with flaws. Surprising new evidence that the trial may also involve the use of GE potatoes demonstrates a possible breakdown in communications amongst scientists involved about exactly what tests on soil and the environment will be valid. “The ERMA hearings reveal that nobody is clear about what the trials will be testing for, and worse - that a proposed rotation of GE crops would make testing worthless. 

It is a shambles, “ says Bleakley from GE Free NZ in food and environment, who attended the hearings. Questions on the proposed rotation of crops revealed one version  of the plan was to grow GE onions followed by potatoes because it would be easy to see if volunteer onions came up. However the canopy created by potatoes would actually make it very difficult to identify volunteer or flowering GE plants. Moreover the planting of potato crops would disrupt the process of soil testing, and would make the results unrepresentative. " If GE potatoes are used to follow the GE onions, it would confound all efforts to properly research the environmental effects of the test-crop,' says Ms. Bleakley. 

Initially there was partial denial by Tony Connor of Crop and Food, stating that there is no approval for trialing GE potatoes, but under further questioning an indication was given that it was possible that GE potatoes would be included with the proviso that field trial approval from ERMA would be required. This raises serious questions demanding the scientists involved explain what this means for interpretation of results of soil microbial activity tests. 

Potatoes (in harvesting) will disrupt the soil profile affecting soil microbial and other potential tests in the ill-defined research project. Further still three years of cultivated fallow will drastically affect soil microbial species and soil health potentially masking any GE effects. This cultivation will further confuse results from already small plots with small buffer zones, through moving the soil.

During the hearings ERMA asked the independent consultant Mr. R Wood and the applicant if the rotation design was used in onion growing practice in NZ. Nothing like it is ever used in commercial growing. The impact on relevance in the field trial is huge; the results of any of this ill-defined research would be unrepresentative and masked by rotation effects. 

ERMA cannot give any credence to the claimed benefits of scientific knowledge when the flawed proposal will render: · Unrepresentative weed research · Unrepresentative soil microbial research · Unrepresentative agronomic effects The trial is within close range of the only organic production of onion seeds in New Zealand. In the UK organic growers and seed producers have been targeted as areas to try and place GE trials, said Claire Bleakley, “ We have major concerns their production.”


Contact Claire Bleakley (06) 3089842

Back to Press Release Directory