Scion smoke signals warn of imminent GE tree planting

Clouds of smoke from a poorly maintained tractor at Crown Research Agency Scion’s genetically engineered (GE) tree field test site last week signals the imminent planting of government supported, but environmentally and economically risky, GE pine trees at Rotorua, according to the Soil & Health Association of NZ. (1)

Green Drinks Rotorua is hosting a public meeting in Rotorua on April 28 that will provide opportunity for Dr Elvira Dommisse, Soil & Health, GE Free Northland, and GE Free NZ, to provide information on the risks of Scion and its United States partner ArborGen’s involvement in GE trees. Scion has been involved with numerous pro-GE trees public relations exercises in the past. The public meeting is the opportunity for the independent scientific and environmentalist viewpoint to be expressed in Rotorua. (2)

“The effective fumigation of the site with diesel fumes, while preparing the soil for further GE contamination, is a exactly what other communities are saying they don’t want,” said Soil & Health – Organic NZ spokesperson Steffan Browning.

Whangarei District Councillors voted unanimously on April 13, to reject the outdoor use of genetically engineered (GE) crops and animals in the Whangarei District, and will now actively seek to undertake a collaborative plan change with all Northland councils and Auckland Council to keep GMOs out of the wider region. (3)

“Whangarei has clearly said they do not want risky technology. Public submissions to Rotorua’s Environment Bay of Plenty’s Regional Policy Statement include similar preferences.”

A new approval by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) in December 2010 for the planting of thousands of GE pine trees in batches at Rotorua over 25 years by Scion has allowed the enlarging of a previous GE pine tree test site to 4 ha. (4)

“Scion’s impending planting cannot be trusted, to not contaminate the Rotorua district with GE pine pollen in future years, if past management and duplicitous public relations communications from Scion, combined with ERMA’s failure to assess risk independently, is anything to go by,” said Mr Browning.

In January 2008 Soil & Health brought public attention to consent breaches by Scion. Following an investigation into the cutting down of 19 experimental GE trees by protestors, and Scion’s management failures, Scion removed the remaining 50 GE trees in June 2010, just  5 years into a potential 22 year experiment, calling that experiment a success.

MAF-Biosecurity NZ (MAF-BNZ) had failed to monitor the Scion GE field test site well, allowing animals to get past the security fence, for important pruning not to happen, for prunings to be mown by a tractor mower that was not cleaned, and pollen structures to form in the open on stressed GE tree seedlings. Independent scientists also challenged the quality of the Scion research.

“ERMA has approved some non-GE trees to release pollen in the upcoming GE experiments and is relying on the integrity of Scion, and its partner ArborGen, to not confuse GE trees and the non-GE experimental control trees producing pollen. However, Scion, ERMA, and MAF-BNZ, who is to monitor the experiments, have together previously allowed noncompliance by Scion to go unchecked even when pollen release was a risk.”

“ArborGen has said it wants to be the Monsanto of the tree world and evidence prepared for the application by Scion initially suggested pine pollen was only a risk for 300metres, although available research stated, “… viable pine pollen grains were captured at an altitude of 610 m.” and “GM pine plantings thus have a potential to disperse viable pollen at least 41 km from the source.”” (5)

“Pollen spread by Scion’s multi-million dollar GE tree partner ArborGen is the basis for legal action in the United States, where ArborGen is protesting that restrictions on GE tree field trials there will mean they may have to cut down existing GE trial trees that are already flowering. They now are pushing for GE forestry in New Zealand.”

Government has put $10.8 million science funding into the Rotorua project and, with pro-GE forestry interests, actively lobby’s Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and international forums such as the Convention of Biological Diversity and the World Trade Organisation along with the USA, for acceptance of GE forestry. Government’s Tourism New Zealand announced the phase out of the 100% Pure New Zealand brand in January.

The enlarged GE test site was being prepared for Scion and its USA partner ArborGen’s experiments in June 2010 ahead of the application for approximately 4000GE pine trees was lodged with ERMA.

In response to Soil & Health’s 12 July media release suggesting that Scion had illegal prior approval from ERMA for the coming application justifying thousands of dollars of earthworks, Scion publicly denied that the earthworks were for a GE field test site, but formally applied a week later to ERMA. Public notification followed in August, with the ERMA hearing following in November 2010 at Rotorua. The decision was announced in December 2010.

“Regardless of the denial that the earthworks were for GE trees, the new external security fence was actually constructed by the time of the November ERMA hearing. This made the hearing a farce and no submitter was in doubt of what the decision would be. ERMA had effectively ticked the approval even before the application was officially received in July 2010.”(6)

“Poor risk analysis of GE plantings by ERMA, and poor liability provisions in the event of wider GE contamination, means that councils must add strong precautionary controls to district and regional plans.”

Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020 with no genetically engineered organisms in the Aotearoa New Zealand environment with the 100% Pure New Zealand brand restored.

(1)   Photographs available of machinery within the Scion GE tree test site April 14. Higher resolution available.
(2)   ‘Risks of GE trees and what to do instead’, 5 pm social – refreshments available, meeting 6 pm, 28 April, Blue Baths, Government Gardens, Rotorua.







(6)    Scion’s misleading responses to public concerns.

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