Failure in GE tree reporting may bring tears to Crop & Food’s onion trial

State-owned GE tree researcher Scion has been negligent in its reporting, as has GE trial auditor MAF Biosecurity New Zealand, and the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) may have been complicit in this, the Soil & Health Association has discovered.

Scion’s annual report to ERMA has been presented online recently*, but although all previous annual reports record that rabbits have been present and destroyed, the December 2007 report has no mention of rabbits, and for the first time reporting began is now presented as (Public Version).

“Soil & Health is keen to see the genuine unsanitised version, as presented to ERMA ahead of the recent Rotorua GE tree field trial breach. ERMA insist the report is unchanged, but a ‘Public Version’ on the heels of public criticism must be treated with scepticism,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.

“Every preceding year, Scion has reported rabbit problems and stated that ‘in any event they could not get out as the fence was buried 1.5metres. Soil & Health in its last Organic NZ magazine, ran a report with photos of the rabbit problem and has also questioned other aspects of compliance.”

“Scion had not pruned all trees according to consent conditions and is now mulching prunings on site, then without a washdown facility is removing GE plant material on mowing equipment to other research and forest areas, and the wider environment.”

“MAF Biosecurity New Zealand had suggested that ERMA had granted an amendment to Scion to allow disposal on site, but such an amendment has not occurred and Scion are in clear breach of conditions by mulch mowing prunings, and MAF had failed again by not addressing the issue.”

Scion Acting chief executive Elspeth MacRae recently said that genes involved with the research would not pose a danger to the outside environment, as the genes were sourced from naturally occurring New Zealand organisms.

However Soil & Health National Councillor and ex Crop & Food GE researcher, Dr Elvira Dommisse said, “That does not mean that the same gene which has been genetically engineered into another species in an artificial gene construction will be harmless. This is the sort of misleading comment we get from some GE scientists. It is in part true, but we cannot conclude from this that all is well.”

“In its genetically engineered form, the gene is no longer under the control of its own DNA. It is jammed into a complicated construct made up of bits of DNA from a number of different organisms. This means the gene is always switched on and is engineered to produce large amounts of a protein that pine trees don’t make. The cellular machinery of a pine tree may produce a protein that is different from the original bacterial protein. Such an altered protein could be harmful.”

“This has already happened in genetically engineered peas, when a harmless bean protein became a toxin when engineered into the closely related pea,” said Dr Dommisse.

“Scions December report also states that all of the trees in one tree experiment are healthy and growing normally. Photographs available to Soil & Health show that is not necessarily the case with some trees having significant die-back,” said Mr Browning.

“Soil & Health would like to see a site plan showing controls and GE trees. The other tree experiment reported does not claim normal growth and photographs show abnormal growth.”

“MAF have also overlooked ERMA’s control condition of limiting the Scion trees to be hedged at 2 metres with just a central leader reaching 5 metres. However the trees are hedged nearer 5 metres with a few taller limbs. Pruning controls are to reduce the chance of GE pollen escape and with these tall bushy trees will be difficult to ensure no flowering occurs.”

“Consistent failures of auditing by MAF show reason to also be concerned at the hundreds of GE experiments in New Zealand universities, crown research institutes and laboratory containment.”

“Crop & Food GE onion researcher Colin Eady was crowing about developing a tearless onion, but with poor performance by all agencies involved with genetic engineering, and the public disdain at risky GE foods, Mr Eady will be wise to listen to farmer calls for New Zealand to be GE Free,” said Mr Browning.

“Crop & Food has already broken consent conditions to its GE onion trial and with MAF and ERMA consistently failing in their GE overview. Any tolerance for the GE trials of onions, brassicas, cows and trees is running out.”

“Producers and consumers share the desire for an economy based on the clean green environment that New Zealand’s discerning markets are looking to. Mr Eady will have no tears if Crop & Food’s research focuses on natural breeding techniques and extends its valuable organic research.”

Soil & Health is committed to GE free food and environment and aspires to an Organic 2020.

Note *Scion Annual Report to ERMA, 2007 Annual Report GMF99001 & GMF99005 (PUBLIC VERSION)

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