GE security beefed up after battle

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 02/03/2014

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Scion, the Crown research institute which looks after forest research, has reinforced security around a trial of genetically modified pine trees following a recent court battle over genetically engineered science.

The institute told Parliament's education and science select committee recently that it had invested $500,000 to extend GE field trials of up to several hundred pine trees at its Rotorua campus.

Some of the plants had been modified for herbicide resistance, others for greater growth and "pulpability", Scion's chief executive Warren Parker said.

The trials will continue for the next 23 years, with trees being removed before they reach the reproduction stage.

Last month Scion took the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to the Environment Court over its decision to adopt the "precautionary principle" over genetic modification.

Scion argued that councils could not have precedence over national legislation and successfully had the council's views in its regional policy statement delinked from its planning process. Parker said they were content with the outcome, even though green supporters had painted it as a success.

"We could have gone back and further contested it being an emergent issue [in the council's regional policy statement] because GM has been around for many, many years but we decided we achieved what we needed to.

"Obviously there are other appeals going to occur in Hastings and in Auckland and all of them come down to . . . the regional council being able to take steps that usurp national legislation."

One committee member, Green MP Steffan Browning, expressed concern that Scion was spending $1.6 million on GE tree trials when the intellectual property rights were owned by an overseas company.

However, Parker said paying royalties for using patented technologies was not unusual and a lot was in the public domain.

"Some we will develop in our own right . . . and we will be able at the appropriate time to file patents, when we've [done] the necessary field trails."

Another GE project Scion is interested in is the modification of wilding conifers, spreading at alarming rates in certain parts of the country. Planted to control erosion, the pines could be partly controlled by developing a sterile version, Parker said.

"One, it would help to solve the wilding problem but it would also mean the genetic material that you were establishing and re-establishing in the forests was the only material that was growing."

One of Scion's more curious projects is its partnership with the Rotorua District Council to turn a pilot plant which converts human sewage into energy and chemical products into a full-scale commercial version. Parker said Scion was involved because technology applicable in forestry could be applied to other sectors and vice versa. Designs had been completed but the project had been deferred for council capital considerations, he said.

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Scion's goal was to help the forestry sector increase export earnings to $12 billion by 2022.

It believed that goal was realistic, with global trends like deforestation and China's rising demand for raw wood. But to get there, the sector would have to increase the quantity and value of the logs exported. Scion was looking at ways to double the amount of radiata per hectare, and working with wood processors to increase their yield. At present Kiwi processors were recovering 55 per cent of a log whereas Chinese processors were recovering 70 per cent.

However, mills were worried about simply getting enough logs to process. Just over half the number of unprocessed logs were being exported because of the high price they were getting overseas. If processors became insecure about supply, they could become reluctant to invest in facilities which might not be fully used, Scion told the committee.

The organisation made an after tax profit of $1.65 million last year on revenue of $45.48m, derived from selling its research to industry.

- Sunday Star Times

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