Plant & Food Research needs to drop GE

Plant & Food’s misleading statements and conflicts of interest further show the need for genetic engineering (GE) field trials to be abandoned says the Soil & Health Association of NZ.

“Plant & Food’s spin shows desperation to continue its GE field trials taking Aotearoa New Zealand down a path away from its current Clean Green and 100% Pure branding,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.

“A revamp of the board, management and direction of this important crown research institute is required if intentional false information around risky science is to be the norm.”

In an attempt to cover up failings at the institute’s GE brassica field trial on National Radio yesterday Plant & Food Research’s Chief Operating Officer Dr Bruce Campbell stated that only one flower was the issue, that a guard row would catch any pollen, and that no plants remained at the site.

“Dr Campbell was quite wrong to say that there was just one flower on one stem. Several flowers had opened and Dr Campbell and his staff not only have had access to my photographs of the split stem with the two flower heads that included a seed pod from a fertilised flower but have that stem in their possession,” said Mr Browning.

“Each of the opened flowers will have released pollen into the environment and GE seed pods may have resulted on non-GE brassicas in the area as a result of this negligence. A wide range of brassicas including broccoli, cabbage, forage kale and cauliflower would have been susceptible to insect or wind pollination.”

“Dr Campbell was wrong to suggest that a guard row completely surrounding the site would intercept any pollen – it would not. Even if there had ever been a complete and robust guard or buffer row, it would never have been able to ensure that no pollen would go beyond the site. However the original brassica guard row had been chopped back in August and the occasional regrowth and many weeds would not miraculously scoop up all the GE pollen released. That was never the function of the so-called guard rows.”

“Dr Campbell’s statement that all GE plants had been removed and destroyed was also wrong. The same sloppiness by Plant & Food Research that allowed a GE plant to flower continued with at least one experimental plant and one buffer row plant still evident among the weeds at the site when we inspected following the supposed removal of all remaining live plants.”

“The field trial site is another example of the lack of monitoring of GE science in New Zealand. This so-called GE research is also a huge waste of the scarce research dollar. There is no demand, locally or internationally for GE crops. There are organic growers out there who can successfully grow brassicas without harmful synthetic pesticides”

“ERMA’s consent conditions for the field trial state that following the growing season monthly inspections for volunteer plants must occur and any volunteers must be removed and killed by steam (autoclaving). Dr Campbell stated on radio that monitoring was carried out more regularly than required, yet when I inspected the site in December the dozens of plants showing regrowth were many months old and at least one had flowered. There was no evidence that anyone had been moving in the site and the principal scientist involved had started her holidays,” said Mr Browning.

“This is the same type of sloppiness that occurred at the Scion GE pine tree trial which also showed very poor monitoring of consent conditions.”

“Dr Campbell, Plant & Food’s management and board appear to be blinded to the risks of GE and need to reassess the appropriateness of their involvement with GE and in fact any positions in the ERMA and Foundation of Research, Science and Technology (FORST) funding agency.”

“Such blatant misinformation coming from a research organisation that is largely funded by the taxpayer shows a need for a major shake up and revamp of agricultural and horticultural science in this country.”

“It appears that Plant & Food have strong GE intent as in a statement on the merge of the crown research institutes Crop & Food and Hortresearch into a single organisation Plant & Food Research, Dr Campbell promoted the benefit of combined GE plant research and stated, “both science companies had similar stances on the use of genetic engineering in food production, as both were using biotechnology.”

The chair of Plant & Food is a FORST director and two senior HortResearch staff were on the ERMA GE Brassica field trial committee that approved this field trial.

“Plant & Food and most of its staff have the capacity for better results if resources weren’t being tied up in the dangerous, risky and unproven GE area. Plant & Food through its predecessors have produced fantastic results in a range of non-GE areas that do not carry the risks of GE.”

“The fastest growing category of the international food industry is in organics and Plant& Food and FORST would be better to invest in that exciting, proven and environmentally safe growth area.”

Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020 that includes a GE Free Aotearoa New Zealand.

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