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GE brassica trial halted after error

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Soil & Health and GE Free NZ are celebrating the commitment by Crown Research Institute (CRI) Plant & Food Research to discontinue the genetically engineered (GE) brassica field trial at Lincoln in Canterbury less than 2 years into its 10 year consent, but say the CRI’s GE alliums (onion family) field trial approval must also be revoked.

GE Free NZ President Claire Bleakley and the Soil and Health Association of NZ spokesperson Steffan Browning met with Plant & Food staff yesterday, to discuss the CRI’s internal report of its biosecurity breach at its genetically engineered (GE) brassica trial site.

GE brassica trial to close immediately
The report recommends that the GE brassica trial should be closed down immediately and a new team of personnel monitor the site over one year for regrowth GE plants.

Soil and Health spokesperson Steffan Browning discovered the biosecurity breach of a flowering brassica at the secret GE field trial site in December.

Initially the breach was dismissed and denied by regulator Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry - Biosecurity New Zealand (MAF-BNZ) and Plant & Food.

"However presented with photographic evidence, they were forced to admit the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) controls had not been followed and at least one GE plant had been left to flower, thereby breaching their permit to conduct field trials" Soil and Health and GE Free said in a combined statement.

Pollen escape major concern
Pollen escape was a major concern among the more than 900 submitters who opposed the original application. Plant & Food have acknowledged a likely breach as early as February 2008.

The early breach raised the question how many GE brassicas flowered in the Lincoln environment in 2008.

"Extensive testing for GE contamination must be carried out in the area,” Mr Browning said.

Claire Bleakley said the internal report showed many discrepancies regarding events leading up to the breach.

Overworked, under-resourced
Over work and under resourcing of the project manager were cited as a main problem in the break down of the controls.

"Reported inexperience and bad advice on how plants perform in the field show that there was inadequate expertise on the aspects of plant performance in the field and the trial manager admits she did not properly read the decision or controls that ERMA placed on the trial.”

The report showed that Plant & Food managers and regulatory agencies did not properly oversee the trial.

The ERMA decision to allow the trial pointed out that the expertise and training of the GE team made any breach “highly improbable.” The inspection agency MAF-BNZ overlooked enforcement protocols and allowed the field trial to continue with verbal assurances of site events rather than visual confirmation, Ms Bleakley said.

GE onion trial still on
She said the CRI should loose all its permits to carry out GE trials.

"We hope that the ERMA and MAF reports due out later in the week will treat the breach by MAF-BNZ staff and the CRI as seriously as Plant & Food have done in their internal report and follow through with the appropriate HSNO Act penalties", she said.

With just one other GE trial approval currently consented for (GE onion family plants yet to be planted), and the flawed Agresearch GE cattle trial on hold, now is a prime opportunity to stop all GE field trials, said Mr Browning.

GE Brassica Trial Breached Rules says OANZ

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