GE activists call for trials to be ended

Last updated 23:37 19/01/2009

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GE-Free New Zealand will seek an urgent meeting with the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) today to revoke the consent for a 10-year genetic engineering field trial near Lincoln.

Last week, Plant & Food Research suspended genetic engineering trials while it investigated two environmental control breaches in the first year of a decade-long field trial of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and forage kale.

GE-Free president Claire Bleakley said the breaches needed to be considered an offence under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

"They've (Plant & Food) shown that they're not fit to actually carry out this duty," she said.

"For the safety of the public and the export market ... the trial needs to be closed down forever."

The trial's consent should be revoked and Plant & Food directors held accountable for not taking reasonable steps to prevent the breach, Bleakley said.

In its decision approving the trial, Erma stated potentially significant adverse effects from the trial were negligible after taking into account containment provisions and controls.

Erma communications manager Lesley Meadows said yesterday the breaches will be "registered as an incident" but any enforcement would have to be taken by Biosecurity New Zealand.

An initial report into the breaches, provided to The Press yesterday, verified two environmental control breaches at the site by not preventing open flowering and not killing living brassica material after the trial finished.

The Biosecurity NZ report demanded all genetically-modified material at the site be removed and killed by January 14, which Plant & Food confirmed had happened.

Plant & Food's internal review of procedures has to be completed by January 26.

A Biosecurity NZ spokeswoman said yesterday the incident was regarded as serious non-compliance and it was reviewing a range of enforcements.

The final harvest of kale plants was completed in early September, but the flowering brassica was found by Soil & Health Association spokesman Steffan Browning in late December.

One of Erma's conditions was the site be monitored monthly after the final harvest to detect GE "volunteer" plants.

The Biosecurity NZ report showed Plant & Food dobbed itself in for the breaches less than half an hour after stating to The Press in an email the brassica stalk removed from the site had "no open flowers".

Browning said yesterday the plant on which the open flower had been found was "months old".

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He also said up to seven flowers had already opened or were developing on the one stem.

"It shows a cavalier attitude to the risks of (growing) GM (genetically modified) plants," Browning said.

Auckland-based Plant & Food spokesman Roger Bourne said as far as he was aware only one bud had flowered but more would have opened if the brassica had not been removed.

Monitoring was regular enough to remove the flowering brassica, but the plant itself was "quite long" and had been missed.

"That's one of the things we're looking into," he said.

- The Press

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