GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 2nd  July 2004

MAF Liability for GE Costs Must Be Passed to Gene Company

MAF's admission that it may be liable for costs incurred in clear-up of GE-contaminated seed is further evidence that a new liability regime is urgently needed to pass costs on to gene-patent owners.

Bayer, the company believed to have the patent on the genes contaminating recent imported maize seeds should be approached for compensation, but it appears this is not being done.

" It appears MAF are now subsidising the biotech industry. MAF appear to have made no efforts to get Bayer to pay up," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment. "MAF are using taxpayers funds rather than the profits of the biotech company to ensure industry commitments to separation and consumer-choice to buy GE-free products are maintained."

There is great concern amongst producers, exporters and the public, that after a few incidents of discovering accidental contamination MAF are contemplating throwing in the towel on New Zealand's zero tolerance standard for GM contamination in seed.

"This could destroy our competitive advantage in the global market and sabotage our standing as having the best standards in the world. We will be a second-tier commodity-exporter unless we preserve our gold-standard regulation," says Mr Carapiet.

The system is working, and only a few crops have required concerted efforts to protect. It is nonsense for MAF to say we'd have to destroy half our crops as reported by Rural News (see below). This is simply scare-mongering aimed at forcing acceptance of GE contamination that the biotech industry wants.

To give up on our zero-tolerance standard is a politically motivated decision that MAF have no mandate from the NZ public to take. �Just because a law is occasionally broken, the rule of law is not abandoned. 70% of New Zealanders oppose the environmental release of GE organisms - whether as a result of ERMA approval, stealth or illegal importation,� says Mr Carapiet.

Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370

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Article By: Hamish Carnachan Date: 30/06/2004 *p. 6 MAF admits there are �some areas� where it will be liable to farmers and seed merchants for losses incurred after the latest accidental release of genetically modified seed. The slip-up occurred when a consignment of maize seed containing low levels of GM contamination made it into the field after a
MAF-accredited testing laboratory in the United States declared it GM-free. The ministry seized enough bags to plant about 350ha of maize but not before a third of the shipment was sold and sown throughout the upper North Island. 

Farmers who grew the seed have been allowed to harvest under strict conditions including separate storage, transportation and processing. Richard Ivess, MAF director of plant biosecurity, says he is unwilling to �talk numbers� but expects there will be instances where reparation is due. �There will be some areas where MAF will be liable under the Biosecurity Act where�if they are worse off they can bring a claim against MAF.� Where the ministry has seized seed or imposed extra costs, such as through separate handling, says Ivess.

 �They will be able to claim compensation.� More than 1300 bags with contamination of 1 seed per 2000, or 0.05%, were imported into the country but New Zealand has a zero tolerance regime under which all detectable GM seed is illegal unless approved by the Environmental Risk Management Authority. The case has prompted MAF to reassess �the practicalities� of maintaining this threshold for the accidental presence of GM seed because below 0.05% contamination is almost impossible to detect. Labelling regulations in most other countries takes into account that a certain degree of GM presence is unavoidable.

Ivess says MAF will be weighing up alternatives to the zero tolerance standard. The ministry is not throwing it in the �too hard� basket; in its present form the control is �unsustainable�. �If every year we have to destroy half our crops it ends up ludicrous after a while. �What we would tend to look at would be the tolerances discussed on an international basis, particularly using the EU as a guide for consideration,� says Ivess. The threshold in Europe is 0.9%. As Rural News goes to print, MAF is holding meetings with farmers and seed merchants affected by the contamination to discuss financial losses and disruptions to their operations. 

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