Plant & Food, Lincoln University, MAF and MoRST Risk Brand New Zealand

Genetic engineering (GE) experiments by Plant & Food Research and Lincoln University need to be reconsidered following new reported failures by government agencies in managing GE risks at Plant & Food’s Lincoln facilities, according to the Soil & Health Association of New Zealand.

“The conflicts of interest by researchers and government agencies in GE management and compliance suggest the best way forward is to stop unnecessary experiments and governments continued attempt to introduce GE plants and animals into the New Zealand environment,” said Soil & Health – Organic NZ spokesperson Steffan Browning.

Plant & Food Research’s containment glasshouse at Lincoln was the scene of a GE cress plant (Arabidopsis thaliana ) leak discovered by a senior scientist, after extractor fan mesh was replaced. However the GE cress plants found growing outside the facility were purportedly by seed washed from the facility through cracks at floor level during a Lincoln University and visiting United States scientist’s experiments.

A Sunday Herald report has said papers released under the Official Information Act show that the scientists may have imported the initial GE cress seed illegally by not declaring its GE status and later blocked investigation inquiries. (1)

A Ministry of Agriculture (MAF) Enforcement Directorate Investigation and Offence Summary sourced by Soil & Health described several possibilities for how the GE cress may have leaked; some through lax maintenance or inadequate filters, and possible removal on clothing by personnel.

“MAF, although principal investigator, is conflicted in these investigations, as invariably its own MAF-Biosecurity NZ GE audit role is found to be wanting. This is further aggravated by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) and MAF allowing researchers to do their own experiment approvals and inspections,” said Mr Browning.

“MAF staff failed to properly monitor the GE brassica field trial the previous year, also at Lincoln, and also Scion’s Rotorua GE field trial before that. ERMA was also complicit in the cover up of Scion’s failing to correctly prune the GE trees to ensure no pollen was released.”

In a response to the Christchurch Press in April, MAF were reluctant to release information and then it was limited to the Enforcement Summary in June.

“Continued lack of transparency by agencies, and difficult levering to access reports through the Official Information Act, show a continued pro-GE push by government agencies reluctant to support the predictions of the NGOs and community who have consistently warned of GE contamination risks.”

“We warn of leaks and pollen escape. ERMA says conditions of consent will ensure no leak, and consistently the experimenters fail. Ministry of Research Science and Technology (MoRST) is culpable too, with its biotech strategy convinced that GE is the way forward. MoRST with its policy role is letting down New Zealand by not keeping with a clean green 100% Pure vision.”

“MoRST has been active in promoting GE and has used United States Department of Agriculture staff to assist. Loyalty to New Zealand producers will be to promote science that supports New Zealand’s brand opportunity, not the commercial and strategic interests of the US corporations.”

“It seems symbolic that MoRST has a photo of GE cress illustrating its biotech page. Maybe the photo was from Lincoln.” (2)

“It could use an illustration of an organic pasture that sequesters carbon, has a full biologically active soil life that deals with nitrates naturally and supports animals that do not need rumen interventions. MoRST and MAF need to move to where their community and customers want them to be.”

Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020 where MoRST, MAF and the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA-ex ERMA) will be co-operating transparently to promote science and production that will add value in an environmentally and economically risk free way.

NOTES
(1)  http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10662711
(2)  http://www.morst.govt.nz/current-work/biotechnology/
(3) The MAF Enforcement Directorate Investigation and Offence Summary is available on request.