MAF dodging Plant & Food’s $10million GE liability
The final response of MAF’s biosecurity and enforcement teams following major breaches of consent by Plant & Food Research (P&F) at its GE brassica (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages etc.) field trial during 2008, is a massive insult to the more than 930 submitters who opposed the field trial, and shows the corruption of government, according to the Soil & Health Association of NZ.
Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning first alerted Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry – Biosecurity New Zealand (MAF-BNZ) last December to his discovery of the breach. Plant & Food Research had left GE brassica plants to flower in the field, something that was not permitted under the field trial’s consent conditions.
Last Monday a MAF Investigator from MAF Infrastructure and Compliance Enforcement notified Mr Browning that MAF had finalised the matter by way of a formal warning to the Plant and Food Research Field Test Manager, the scientist who had resigned her position as approved containment facility operator following publicity of the breach.
“MAF was in a position to send the strongest possible message to the science community for its sloppy approach to GE field trials. Instead it has just passed them the most lenient next-to-nothing approach possible,” said Soil & Health Spokesperson Steffan Browning.
“Soil & Health has yet to receive the ‘comprehensive information summary’, the investigation report, completed by the MAF Investigator. There is also further information relating to the decision-making process that resulted in the warning decision.” However, Soil & Health believes that MAF, who have informally suggested that they were unable to penalise Plant and Food, have conveniently failed to interpret the law. Plant and Food could have been fined at least $10 million, and the scientist $500,000 (1).”
“The ‘slap over the wrist with a wet seed packet’ of a formal warning to the GE field trial’s key scientist, dodges the responsibility of her employer, Plant and Food Research, who continues to experiment with many other GE vegetables and flowers indoors and is holding an approval for a substantial and more risky GE allium (onion family) field trial that has not yet been planted. These GE crops will be allowed to go to flower and set seed in the field”
“With significant cost to those that submitted against the GE brassica and onion applications and who were vindicated in their concerns about pollen release when Soil & Health and GE Free NZ exposed the GE breaches, how is it that P& F are not fined substantially as the HSNO Act allows? All those submitters get it right, Soil & Health and GE Free NZ do the work, and Plant & Food gets a business as usual pass.”
“This smacks of collusion from the top down and begs the question of why MAF-BNZ is the agency responsible for monitoring GE experiments in New Zealand. When they fail that role along with the scientists involved, they are the sole agency responsible for checking the degree of GE contamination resulting from the breach. Deciding the penalty for this breach is also their task and they failed that. Another MAF division is the judge and jury deciding the legal penalty for those responsible and yet did not penalise P&F at all”
“ Who is responsible? The Minister? The CEO? Someone has allowed the three separate arms of MAF to blend a pro-GE business as usual solution, to a blatant example of why New Zealand science should not be proceeding down the GE path.”
“Is it because P&F is a Crown Research Institute (CRI)? Is it because sneaky behind the scenes GE exports from our science institutions are benefiting New Zealand big business in its environmentally unsustainable and blinkered approach to business? Fletcher Challenge’s manifestation Rubicon’s attempt to grow 260,000 GE eucalypt trees, exported after developmental assistance by the laboratories of Arborgen and CRI Scion in New Zealand, through to flowering and seeding in several US states and Brazil, is one of the more reckless examples of GE development yet,” said Mr Browning.
Just a few days ago Prime Minister Key gave $1million dollars to the Queenstown tourisms 100% Pure branded winter festival.
“How about Plant & Food’s $10 million penalty going to clean green 100% Pure organic research and development?”
“Risky and sloppy GE science does not fit with tourism’s 100% Pure brand or the Clean Green brand that sells so much of our primary production and worse still, it lacks a conscience about long term environmental and health effects.”
Every GE field trial approved by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) has been in breach of its consent conditions, with two closed down since Soil & Health and GE Free NZ have disclosed serious non-compliances at them. Both Scion and Plant and Food risked pollen release.
MAF-BNZ also failed to monitor the Scion GE pine tree field trial correctly, and then joined with ERMA and Scion into damage control, ignoring evidence supplied by Soil & Health, back dating illegal consent changes, misleading the public about the breaches, with the Minister of the day also joining in.
Photographs and the scientist’s own log have shown how the GE brassica field trial was breaching its ERMA consent conditions with flowering plants, even as GE Free NZ and the organic sector were in the High Court appealing ERMA’s decision allowing the trial. If the decision was made under the RMA, the scientist would not have dared plant until the appeal decision was final.
“Plant and Food not only planted but breached its consent conditions ahead of a final decision.”
“Such gross negligence and arrogance gets the wet seed packet approach and business as usual by MAF. What is ERMA’s report, due out shortly, going to say about the many consents given to P&F? Probably not a lot, when two of ERMA’s own team granted the decision to Crop & Food (now P&F ).”
P&F was formed during the time of the GE brassica field trial by a merger of Crop & Food Research (C&F) and HortResearch, who employed two scientists involved in the ERMA decision to allow the GE brassica field trial. The C&F GE brassica applicants and some decision makers were based at the Lincoln CRI research centre. At the time HortResearch employed some ERMA decision makers and assured the many submitters and public that GE pollen release would not be a problem, because of “the controls that have been designed to ensure that GM brassicas do not produce open flowers in the field test site.”
“Blind faith in the colleagues next door or just fobbing the public off?”
“Science funders need to look at their priorities as well, and Foundation of Research Science and Technology (FORST) should be focused on genuine sustainability as their funding target, but with GE contamination well through that organisation, and now also including then acting Crop & Food CEO at the time of the GE brassica breach, it will be a difficult challenge for funding to focus on genuine sustainability and organic research, unless government shows direction.”
“With such incestuous connection between the regulatory and science fraternities, no wonder the community loses faith. The community may have to look beyond the regulations if they are not seen to genuinely work, or GE pollen can be expected as a routine contamination. Science regulation in New Zealand means little this week.” said Mr Browning.
Currently there are no GE field trials in operation in New Zealand, with Plant and Food being coy about their intentions with the GE onion family field trial approval they hold, and AgResearch’s wide ranging GE animal applications have been stopped following GE Free NZ’s successful appeal to the High Court against ERMA. AgResearch GE experimental cattle are grazing at Ruakura, but are not allowed to be experimented with, due to their relevant consents having expired. Technically with the High Court decision they should now be euthanased within a year (2). However, AgResearch intends reapplying, despite the significant animal welfare concerns by the public and admissions of “a less than 9 percent live birth rate, aborted deformed foetuses, deformed calves, gangrenous udders and ‘animals suffering from respiratory conditions’”.
“There is a very good opportunity for government to say NO TO GE FIELD TRIALS. All have failed in some respects, all are contrary to 100% Pure, Clean Green brand NZ, there ***is none in operation and the public are mostly opposed to them.”
Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020 with a motto of Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Healthy People, and is active in seeking genuinely sustainable solutions for New Zealand production and environment. Plant and Food’s $10 million plus penalty could be a good investment for sustainable value added organic production.
(1) Who will carry out enforcement for new organisms?
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is the primary agency undertaking new organism enforcement activities.
What do enforcement officers do?
Enforcement officers will visit premises from time to time to check that controls on new organisms are being complied with. The frequency of inspections should reflect the risks involved. High risk situations should be checked often, while low risk situations may be visited on a less frequent basis. The Act gives enforcement officers the power to enter premises to collect information and evidence. An enforcement officer can also issue a compliance order requiring a person:
* to cease doing anything that contravenes the Act or is significantly dangerous; or
* to do something to ensure compliance, or to remedy the effects of a breach.
(2) What are the penalties for serious offences (non-compliance) under the HSNO Act?
The penalties for breaching the HSNO Act are fines of up to $500,000 in the case of an individual; and, in the case of a body corporate, the greater of $10 million, or three times the value of any commercial gain from the contravention, or 10 per cent of the turnover of the body corporate and all its interconnected bodies corporate, if the commercial gain cannot be ascertained. In addition, a person could be found to have civil liability for acts or omissions in breach of the Act.
(3) 45A Controls required for certain developments and for all field tests
· (1) This section applies to an approval under section 45—
o (a) to develop a new organism in containment that is a genetically modified organism, to the extent that the development does not take place in a containment structure; or
o (b) to field test a new organism in containment if the new organism is a genetically modified organism.
(2) An approval—
o (a) must include controls to ensure that, after the end of the development or field test, the organism and any heritable material from the organism is removed or destroyed; and
o (b) may include controls to ensure that, after the end of the development or field test and after heritable material is removed or destroyed, some or all of the genetic elements remaining from the organism are removed or destroyed.