GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 18th July  2003

GE Trees planted out last week

GE Free New Zealand (in food and environment) is very concerned by information that Forest Research has already planted out GE spruce trees in Rotorua.

In letters to the Environmental Risk Management Authority, the FRI revealed it had started planting GE spruce trees (GMF 99005 Picea abies) on 10 July 2003, but that GE pine trees (GMF 99005/99001 Pinus radiata) plantings have been delayed.

These trees include antibiotic resistant markers, herbicide-resistant genes and genes linked to �terminator� technology. The original Forest Research GE tree applications attracted over 735 submissions, of which 96.5% were opposed, including the Department of Conservation who expressed serious concerns about wildling pines in the conservation estate.

The FRI originally deferred its field tests, until 'the voluntary moratorium is lifted' stating they were doing so "in order to be seen to be acting responsibly and in accordance with the spirit of the voluntary moratorium". (See FRI press release 31 October,2000]

However as the present moratorium is only on applications for release of GE organisms, they are able to proceed with the plantings as a �field trial�, despite the ongoing debate about GE contamination of the New Zealand environment from such trials.

The original Forest Research application (GMF 99005) was for herbicide resistant GE spruce and pine. This allows for increased quantities of herbicide to be used in future forestry applications. This could dramatically increase the amount of chemical run off from forestry plantations, entering water supplies. 

The scientific concerns about long-term impact on soil and our environment have not yet been properly addressed. General concerns include increased use of herbicides, superweeds, and risks to soils from horizontal gene transfer (HGT). ERMA's record to-date gives the public little confidence that these trials are properly designed to ensure environmental contamination is avoided.

GE Free New Zealand maintains there has been insufficient publicity or public discussion about the implications for New Zealand of planting out experimental GE trees in the open environment. There are concerns that the recent independent review of ERMA has raised unanswered questions about the capability of the Government's environmental watchdog to properly regulate genetically engineered crops and animals.

Particular mention was made of poor oversight by ERMA of compliance and monitoring of conditions set on GE approvals, and poor coordination between ERMA and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) which enforces conditions on GE trials set by ERMA.

Basic understanding of GM impacts on soil biota and insect populations needed to have been established through comprehensive lab-based studies before these trees were planted out. The absence of this data shows good science is being compromised in a rush for commercial profits. It is regrettable that Crown Research Institutes funded by taxpayer dollars are a part of this problem.

More info: Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370

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Source: ERMA 17 July 2003

References: The Institute of Science in Society ISIS report - 20/02/03
Chronicle of An Ecological Disaster Foretold

ERMA review raises concerns over regulator's GE capabilities NZ Herald 2 July 2003: