Soil & Health and GE Free NZ are calling for the closure of all Plant & Food Research* genetically engineered (GE) field trials.
The crown research institute Plant and Food Research’s GE brassica trial site in Lincoln, Canterbury, has been shown to be in breach of controls imposed by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) by allowing a GE plant to flower and release pollen in the open field. Soil & Health and GE Free NZ representatives will be visiting the site today to ensure removal of illegal GE plants.
“The ten year field trial has been shown to be sloppy and environmentally dangerous following its first year of operation, just as submitters opposed to the trial had been fearful of,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning, who discovered the flowering GE plant during a surprise private monitoring visit ahead of Christmas.
“The trial planted ahead of GE Free NZ’s High Court appeal against the ERMA decision, has failed to monitor volunteer plant leaving a GE debris filled site open to the elements and a direct threat to our environment,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ in Food and Environment, who located the ‘secret’ trial spot with Mr Browning in August last year.
Former Crop & Food scientist Dr Elvira Dommisse added her concern with the discovery. “Yet again, conditions of a GE field trial have been breached. GE brassica pollen is likely to have been released in the Lincoln area. If the Crop & Food (Plant & Food) staff responsible can’t manage their field trials without serious breaches of conditions, then the field trials should be stopped.”
In 2006 ERMA approved a trial – GMF 06001- to genetically modify four species of Brassica –cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) insecticidal genes.
“These dangerous, irresponsible GE field trials must not be allowed to contaminate our horticulture land and further endanger farmer livelihood. The researcher’s cavalier attitudes, shoddy research, secret locations and poor adherence to controls mean that ERMA must immediately call a halt to all trials,” Ms Bleakley said.
At the December visit the ‘secret’ site was overgrown with weeds and littered with stalk residue from the GE kale. Plants had been cut off above ground level and not dug out as required in the controls. The re-growth from cut stalks of the buffer rows were flowering and setting seed.
Many GE brassica stalks had also re-grown with at least one kale having bolted producing a flowering stem and seed pod. The plant’s label confirmed that it was a GE plant that had sprouted from the GE stem left in the soil. The seed pod is evident in the attached photograph.
There is a possibility that the buffer plants have been pollinated by the GE pollen. The GE pollen may also have been carried several kilometres by either insects or wind.
“The site is within two km of Lincoln University’s organic Biological Husbandry Unit and Heinz-Wattie’s certified organic Kowhai farm,” said Ms Bleakley. “Neighbouring properties are privately owned farming, horticulture and lifestyle blocks, and are likely to have brassica plants. This event is not science for the benefit of New Zealanders, but is endangering New Zealand’s GE Free brand and international trading reputation.”
When Plant and Food Research was rung and told of the breach the GE brassica trial, Soil & Health were told that the trial’s managing scientist Mary Christey was on holiday and fellow scientist Dr Tony Conner fielded the call. When Mr Browning went down to the site a second time he found that the offending GE flower stalk and seed pod had been removed but many plants with re-growth remained.
“The level of misinformation by Plant and Food Research and auditor MAF-Biosecurity New Zealand’s communications staff is very concerning,” said Mr Browning. “Saying they were twisting the truth would be being kind to them. These people seem to be prepared to say anything and only admitted to a GE flowering stem when The Press presented my photograph to them.”
“Still denying open flowers defies belief and a science institution presented with a fertilised seed pod appears to need a lesson about the birds and the bees. And for GE field trial auditor MAF-Biosecurity to say no breach had occurred when re-growth volunteer plants remained is disappointing and flies in the face of the trial’s ‘strict’ conditions.”
“Last year started with major monitoring compliance breaches by another crown research institute, Scion at the GE pine tree field trial site at Rotorua. This led to similar denials and misrepresentation from Scion, MAF- Biosecurity NZ and ERMA, although later led to the closure of the site and felling of all the GE trees.”
“If the ERMA and Biosecurity New Zealand fail to take action to punish the culprits they will once again have proved themselves to be nothing more than facilitators for the cheap tricks turned by the rogue scientists at Plant and Food Research rather than regulators working in the national interest. The trial must be shut down immediately and brassica seed and honey within the Lincoln area tested for adventitious GE contamination,” said Mrs Bleakley.
“GE field trials in New Zealand are becoming a real threat to the farmer and the clean green brand. Today we will revisit the site to ensure New Zealand’s GE free status is protected,” said Bleakley and Browning.
Soil & Health shares a GE free vision with GE Free NZ in food and environment, and has a vision of an Organic 2020.
*formerly Crop and Food.
Crop & Food merged recently with HortResearch to form Plant and Food Research. HortResearch’s Kieran Elbrough and Max Suckling were half of the 2007 ERMA decision making committee that approved the Crop & Food GE brassica field trial application.
Crop and Food confidential Annual Report No 2210, for GMF06001 July 2008http://www.ermanz.govt.nz/no/compliance/2008%20GMF06001%20Annual%20Repor…