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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held its first hearing on GE to consider a plan to leave company managers overseeing their own biosecurity compliance, but the applicants are irresponsible in not mentioning serious breaches of biosecurity that have happened before.
A group of ten organisations from Crown Research Institutes (CRI) and private businesses has applied to import and develop genetically engineered (GE) thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana).
The EPA hearing is the first since it took over the role of ERMA to consider GE applications. It considered how it would be possible for just 3 biosecurity officers from the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) to secure, monitor and inspect the 170 containment facilities covered in the application, or to ensure consistency in their management.
But previous breaches in containment went unmentioned in the application. Instead the EPA has been provided hyped promises to justify handing over oversight of biosecurity to the companies themselves.
Scion’s spokesperson told the EPA hearing about the benefits of developing GE for international collaboration and better understanding of plant traits. However, it is highly concerning that the discussion was on promoting GE development, and that the evidence of harm from GE plants to the environment, health of animals and possibly humans was not mentioned in any of the presentations.
"The EPA must implement stringent controls on the management in all GE facilities” said Claire Bleakley president of GE-Free NZ in food and environment.
A million dollars has just been spent on checking for a single fly that risked New Zealand's biosecurity. Mistakes at GE trials or containment labs could cost much more.
New Zealand's economy is reliant on the integrity of our biosecurity and the EPA cannot ignore the past breaches or the failures of GE. Yield and performance are poor; resistant weeds and insects are causing serious problems to farmers; and overuse of chemicals is leading to use of mixtures with older more toxic chemicals.
“We hope that the constructive debate that was had today at the EPA hearing was not for show and does not repeat the pretense that has gone on previously in 'consultation'.
“A small number of researchers have dedicated their life to GE, however after ten years and no viable outcomes, it is time these people considered more acceptable use of genomics in the areas of Marker Assisted Breeding and recognised the value of New Zealand's GE-free food production,” said Mrs. Bleakley.
From 2007 -2010 there was a series of major breaches in security of the facilities,and this has resulted in the closure of all horticultural field trials in New Zealand. A prior approval for allium species (onion, spring onion, leek and garlic), which was put on hold, has been terminated. Plant and Food are considering their options and advancing along the Marker Assisted Breeding route.