PO Box 13402
Wellington, New Zealand

GE-Free New Zealand

in food and environment (RAGE Inc.)


No Criminal Liability� Leaves Public Paying for GE Escape


A report by MAF-Biosecurity NZ on the escape of GE plants at Lincoln has confirmed the concerns of ratepayers and councils around New Zealand by finding �nobody� involved in the escape is to be held responsible.

The much-delayed report into how GE Arabidopsis plants ended up growing outside laboratory containment has concluded that no one was responsible for the breach. The report describes the escape of GE plants as �alleged�, though there are photographs of the plants.

The events described have an alarming similarity to the breach at the Pirbright Laboratory in the U.K. where a GE strain of Foot and Mouth virus escaped into adjacent waterways through the drain. The error was caused by failing to properly autoclave genetic material that escaped into the storm water system, resulting in a foot and mouth outbreak, on three farms downstream from the laboratory, and closed down UK exports while the disease outbreak was dealt with.

The MAF decision confirms earlier legal advice that under current legislation no liability is attributable to any one �as long approved protocols are followed� so all costs for damage and clean-up are �socialised�. This represents a frightening vulnerability for New Zealand because contamination from any GM material in the surrounding area would affect and possibly destroy the livelihoods of farmers reliant on being able to export GM-Free products to New Zealand�s most high-value markets.

�The low threshold for criminal liability that MAF Biosecurity has applied over this incident puts the public and ratepayers directly in the firing line, paying out yet again for negligent researchers mistakes," says Claire Bleakley from GE Free NZ in food and environment

.�The lack of recommendations by MAF to increase laboratory controls and prevent this happening again is a wake up call for local government to act now and legislate for local exclusion zones for GE research and any attempt at deliberate release.�

It is astonishing that no changes to current practice are being made, yet MAF-Biosecurity NZ identified a number of potential avenues for escape and found that �sloppy� adherence to disposal protocols were a main factor in the escape into the environment.

MAF-BNZ must re-assess and ensure this can never happen again by introducing stricter laboratory PC2 standards across all laboratories.

�Unfortunately just being �sloppy� threatens our environment and economy, which is why the law is so important,� says Jon Carapiet, spokesperson for GE Free NZ in food and environment. �MAF-BNZ�s decision is a potentially disastrous because it fails to encourage compliance to rules that are central to protecting New Zealand.�
Claire Bleakley: 06-3089842 / 027 348 6731
Jon Carapiet: 0210507681


Final report on potential breaches of biosecurity at the Pirbright site 2007 http://www.hse.gov.uk/news/archive/07aug/finalreport.pdf

Lifting the lid on what happened at Pirbright site 2007 http://www.farmersguardian.com/lifting-the-lid-on-what-happened-at-pirbright-site/11923.article

Investigation of possible GM plant containment breach finds no grounds for prosecution, 18 June 2010, MAF http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/media/18-06-10/gm-plant-investigation

Aribidopsis Investigation Summary report 31st May 2010 - obtained under the OIA..

The MAF Biosecurity report says:
�The investigation found that while there had been technical breaches of conditions surrounding the operation of the containment glasshouse, these were promptly remedied, and there were no grounds for prosecution."

Plant and Food leased their laboratory to a senior lecturer at Lincoln University over two summers of 2007 -09. The GE Arabidopsis seed was imported from Trinity University, Kansas by a visiting Trinity research Professor on sabbatical leave and there is recognition that the hardy seeds may have washed into the drain when they should have been killed in the laboratory.

The seeds were grown by technicians who watered them daily. But a Plant and Food technician may not have been properly trained as training manuals had not been filled in. Theories on how any excess water might have escaped into the exclusion zone include; water carrying the tiny viable seeds from Plant and Food GE facilities ran into the floor drain, then into a sump and then into the storm water drain. Alternatively it may have collected at the end of the bench and �somehow� been picked up by the ventilation system and blown into the exclusion zone.

back to directory