Scientist fired after GE plant mishap

A senior scientist dismissed from Grasslands for serious misconduct is fighting his former employers, who say his actions could have caused a risk to bio security, the environment, and people's health and safety.

On July 23 Dr Igor Kardailsky was sacked from the research institute which comes under AgResearch's umbrella.

Dr Kardailsky was conducting experiments with genetically modified ryegrass plants.

He was on annual leave on May 24 when a colleague emailed him to say the ryegrass plants were flowering and those flowers needed to be cut back or bagged to prevent pollen spread.

The plants were grown in a glasshouse but there are strict legislative controls governing GM research.

The colleague asked Dr Kardailsky to OK the proposed cutting or bagging and asked him to file a plan that would outline how to prevent similar incidents.

But in his reply, Dr Kardailsky asked the colleague not to cut any of the flowering heads of the grass, saying he would look at them on his return to work.

His colleague photographed and removed them, which upset Dr Kardailsky, who said he wanted to keep the plants in their flowering state as he didn't have enough records of the later stages of flowering.

"The only words that come to me to describe her behaviour are malicious, ignorant and bullying," Dr Kardailsky said of his colleague.

A Research held an employment investigation into allegations he might not have sufficient contained the ryegrass experiment and that his actions were in breach of Ministry of Primary Industries and Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) regulations.

Dr Kardailsky told A Research there was a contradiction between EPA processes and the terms of the contract governing his experiment.

"He said that were was nothing in the relevant controls that specified that plants could not flower. Dr Kardailsky further advised that he considered that there were issues of systemic non-compliance in the way the Grasslands facility was managed," an Employment Relations Authority judgment says.

AgResearch's investigation concluded that Dr Kardailsky had breached the Crown Research Institute's policies and had failed to follow EPA best practice.

"The report also advised that the investigators found Dr Kardailsky had refused to obey a lawful and reasonable instruction and that his actions were deliberately non-compliant."

AgResearch also told the authority that the breach of containment of pollen was reporter to the Primary Industries Ministry, which defined it as an instance of "critical non compliance".

This is defined as "a major failure in an operation of system that caused, or could have caused a serious risk to bio security, the environment, or health and safety of people and communities."

While the main hearing for Dr Kardailsky's employment dispute, where he alleged unjustified dismissal, will be held in December, he applied to the Employment Relations Authority for interim reinstatement.

However, authority member Michele Ryan declined this, noting that Dr Kardailsky's experiment could be resumed later without any negative impact caused by a delay.

He had also not applied for final reinstatement and had not provided the authority with enough evidence to show he would be disadvantaged by not working until December.

Manawatu Standard