Refusal to Monitor Soil Health Puts NZ at Risk

Published: Mon 29 Nov 2004 10:21 AM
Refusal to Monitor Soil Health Puts NZ at Risk
The refusal by ERMA to undertake monitoring of soil at the largest GM-animal trial site in the country reflects a long-term cavalier attitude to soil which puts New Zealand's health and economy at risk.
Recent events in Auckland - where past agricultural use has come back to haunt residents, and similar contamination issues around the country, are a wake-up call to regulatory authorities that they have been negligent in protecting our greatest asset: the soil beneath our feet.
The NZ Herald and Weekend Herald have run a series of feature articles exposing the "ticking time bomb" of soil contamination and degradation. Yet government authorities have continued to turn a blind eye to threats to soil health and soil-integrity.
One example of failure by officials to take "dirt" seriously is the refusal by ERMA- the Environmental Risk Management Authority to monitor the soil at New Zealand's largest-ever GE-animal research site.
A High Court hearing is due to take place this week to review what measures are legally required to meet New Zealand's biosecurity legislation in relation to the former PPL-site at Whakamaru where thousands of transgenic sheep were run before the company collapsed and the sheep destroyed.
"It is frightening that ERMA have been refusing to test and monitor this site, preferring to sell it off immediately for conventional farming," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment.
" We cannot allow GE-soil contamination to become a problem for the next generation. Public confidence in ERMA can only be further undermined by their attitude to regulation," Mr Carapiet says.
It is outrageous that the High Court case is having to be taken by an individual citizen instead of authorities taking their duties, scientific learning, and the precautionary principle seriously.
At the time of PPL's collapse former Prime Minister Jim Bolger backed calls by independent scientists and GE-free NZ for scientific samples to be taken form the sheep for research. However inadequate funding and lack of agreement to do so meant thousands of transgenic sheep were destroyed without any such research being undertaken. In the same vein, authorities have refused to take soil samples and there is no intention to do anything about monitoring of the test-site.
" By burying their head in the sand authorities like ERMA are risking our soil and clean-green credentials, instead of protecting them," says Mr Carapiet.
As well as ERMA itself, papers raising public concern about the PPL site have been presented to The Minister for the Environment, MAF, Taupo DC, Waikato Environment, and Whakamaru Farms.
" We know genetic material can and does survive for many years, and that the novel processes of GE present new risks of HGT and contamination. It's time the government woke up to the need to protect our soil and support sustainable agricultural practices," says Mr Carapiet.
Instead, government policy to allow GE-release puts our organic producers at risk, and will undermine improvements to conventional agriculture by allowing GM contamination that threatens exports, soil integrity, and human health.

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