MAF Biosecurity choking on the truth

Soil & Health is alarmed at the collusion between government agencies that is being displayed in their damage control efforts, following serious breaches of the trial of genetically engineered pine trees near Rotorua.

MAF Biosecurity NZ (MAFBNZ) has just released a report, “MAFBNZ Investigation of Compliance and Monitoring of the Scion GM Field Test,” following the security breach and GE tree cutting at the Rotorua site in early January, and the earlier release of information by Soil & Health in its Organic NZ magazine showing Scion’s non-compliance with the trial’s controls.

“The suggestion that rabbit holes at the Scion GE trees field trial were possibly human-made for publicity purposes goes against the evidence that is available to MAFBNZ or Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) auditing staff,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning. “They should stop pretending that Scion are compliant.”

“Soil & Health has produced clear photographic evidence to both authorities, of well-aged rabbit holes, droppings and all, going under the GE pine trees field trial security and vermin-proof fence (photos attached). The photographs also show the mismanagement of the trees. Because everyone from the Minister down through ERMA and MAFBNZ choose to be complicit with the GE trees experimenter in defending poor compliance, further civil disobedience is predictable as those opposed to genetic engineering have nowhere to turn.”

“The report is consistently misleading and blind to Scion shortcomings. It uses innuendo to shoot the messenger and is effectively deceitful. MAFBNZ originally tried covering up Scion’s sloppy management by telling me that Scion had an ERMA amendment to dispose of prunings on site, allowing mulching. Now they suggest that we made an inaccurate claim,” said Mr Browning.

“We had already pointed out the lack of amendment, and now the inspector says that there was no mulching, although acknowledges the prunings had been mown.”

The report says: ‘MAFBNZ issued a minor non-compliance to Scion following notification of this incident, and recommended that a separate area on site be designated for the drying of tree prunings to prevent future mower access. MAFBNZ graded this as a minor incident, because no serious biosecurity risk/threat has resulted, prunings have not been “disposed” of by mulching and incineration is still the intended final disposal method, and staff had taken measures to remedy the situation and ensure it would not occur again.’

“Scion staff had apparently raked up the remaining prunings the day after the security breach was observed, and following Soil & Health’s media release showing Scion’s mismanagement. Retrospectively there is now an ‘agreement’ between complicit ERMA, MAFBNZ and Scion that will allow incineration on site,” said Mr Browning, “Our understanding is that this agreement is illegal. MAF has no jurisdiction: it is the auditor. ERMA is the decision-maker and any change must be a formalised amendment, and to be meaningful should be notified as the community has concerns on how such incineration should take place.”

“The report fails to recommend a wash down facility for equipment for the tractor, mower and other equipment used in the trial. Ironic considering the ‘bath’ (photo attached) that vehicles entering the rest of the (non-GE) Scion facility must drive through. The arrogance that has ERMA, MAFBNZ and Scion assuming that no heritable material can be taken out by rabbits, tractors, footwear etc, perpetuates poor compliance.”

According to the GE trial rules, the pine trees must be hedged at a height of 2 metres, although they are allowed to have a central leader growing up to 5 metres. This is to enable monitoring to stop the release of genetically engineered pollen escaping to the environment and pines of the Rotorua region.

“The inspector has failed to spot the obvious even though Soil & Health have reported that the trees are not being pruned according to the consent. The inspector has chosen to overlook the lack of required hedging at 2 metres high, when reporting that the trees had grown potentially 300 mm in the 3 months ahead of inspection and were apparently no more than 4.8 metres tall. Is there another convenient non-notified ‘agreement’ between the complicit agencies to remove the precaution of hedging at 2 metres?”

“Now a tree that is approaching 6 metres is described as a non-GE ‘filler’ and the report states ‘could mistakenly be concluded to be part of the GM trial itself.’ There are 5 non-GE controls in the trial, but we have never heard of these ‘fillers’ before. In the ramshackle excuse for a shade-house in the trial plot (photo attached), according to Scion’s December 7 report to ERMA, there are apparently 46 cuttings. No cuttings were visible in Soil & Health’s visits, so it must be asked where in the Rotorua environment are these cuttings also reported to have a propensity for producing pollen? Considering the doubts raised by poor compliance, it will be appropriate for Soil & Health to have a copy of the Scion management plan,” says Browning.

“The inspector has gone on to suggest that the rabbit holes we earlier reported were contrived: ‘MAF is still investigating the cause of these holes, and has not ruled out the possibility these were man-made for publicity purposes.’”

“I had supplied the inspector several photos that clearly show the reality of the holes and had a 50 minute interview with her in which I suggested the rabbit burrows could well have been enlarged on the outside of the fence by dogs that are often walked in the area. But the photos clearly show rabbit burrows beyond any enlarged entrances. What is the inspector’s explanation for the sizeable rabbit holes on the inside of the fence at that point, droppings and all, or the rabbits and cat seen within the so-called vermin-proof fence?”

“The MAFBNZ report also states that the outer wire netting fence extends 2 metres below ground. Scion’s reports to ERMA consistently state 1.5 metres although in a report for tangata whenua, Scion have said 2 metres. With rabbits and even a cat, and now protestors having entered the compound, a check of the trial plot’s construction depth is warranted.”

“Honesty in monitoring, reporting and a genuine and full precautionary approach as required by the Royal Commission is imperative in order to minimise the risk of GE contamination of the environment, and may also preclude further civil disobedience.”

Soil & Health is committed to a GE Free future and has a goal of an Organic 2020.


Photographs available from Steffan Browning:

* DSCF3680 (2).JPG Vehicle tyre ‘bath’ at Scion compound adjacent to GE trial area that has no equipment wash down facility.
* DSCF3686 (2).JPG 1-11-07 GE trees in centre block. Note tall tree to the right within the block and also ‘shade house’, cuttings not apparent. Prunings lying to front left of GE trees.
* DSCF3689 (2).JPG 1-11-07 Note trees apparently pruned to 4.5 metres 2 weeks before, but no hedging at 2 metres, minimising effectiveness of weekly pollen monitoring.
* DSCF3695 (2).JPG 1-11-07 Note trees as reported by Scion to ERMA 07 December 07 as healthy and growing normally.
* DSCF3696 (2).JPG 1-11-07 Saplings reported to have been cut down in security breach. Reported 07-12-07 as healthy.
* DSCF3707 (2).JPG 1-11-07 Rabbit hole outside perimeter fence possibly enlarged by dogs. Deeper than arms length.
* DSCF3710 (2).JPG 1-11-07 Rabbit hole inside fence adjacent to others outside. Note size, activity level and droppings top right.
* DSCF3713 (2).JPG 1-11-07 Steffan Browning at holes. Right hand indicating hole from photo #10. Two main entrances on both sides of fence.

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