INDEPENDENT NEWS

Blind Eye to Forestry Threat Containment Breached

Published: Fri 7 Nov 2003 10:48 AM
Authorities Turn Blind Eye to Forestry Threat as Containment Breached
Even before any 'conditional' GE releases have been decided by ERMA there are major concerns that GE tree field-trials planted out earlier this year have put New Zealand at risk.
An investigation is being carried out into the failed segregation of GE pine trees and plants infected with pitch pine canker by the Forest Research Institute, reportedly stored side by side in greenhouse conditions.
Pitch pine canker was described in 1999 by Kevin Smith Forest and Bird Conservation director as a major threat to New Zealand.
"The arrival in New Zealand of one fungus from the United States, the pine pitch canker, could wipe out our $5 billion plantation forest industry,”he said.
Despite voicing concerns about bio-terrorism in January this year, it now appears that the FRI itself imported this material and that concerns of cross -contamination were ignored by ERMA.
Failures such as these leave little reason for confidence in ERMA . The regulatory system is already in break-down mode and unfortunately it seems now just a matter of time before we see the costs of that breakdown.
In collaboration with HortResearch, forest health scientists apparently investigated the effectiveness of induced resistance to disease and carried out research programmes in quarantine to evaluate the effect of the fungus on other nursery plants.
http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/SC0301/S00015.htm
In another story today biotech industry player Bayer were found having breached buffer controls in Australia by allowing a non GE variety in a buffer zone to flower adjacent to growing GE canola.
ENDS
Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/storydisplay.cfm?storyID=3532773=news
hesubsection=general
GM pine trees in disease probe NZ HERALD 06.11.2003 By ANNE BESTON
An investigation has started into possible contamination of genetically
modified pine trees being grown in a field trial at Rotorua.
The contamination allegations come from two former Forest Research Institute
scientists, Dale Smith and John Hutcheson.
Dr Smith quit his job at the institute in 1996 when he discovered GM pinus
radiata seedlings had been grown in the same greenhouse as imported pinus
taeda seedlings, in breach of regulations.
He alleges there was evidence the taeda plant material, imported from the
United States, showed evidence of being contaminated with pine pitch canker
virus, capable of devastating New Zealand's forestry industry.
Dr Smith, now an independent forest biologist in Rotorua, is adamant the
taeda seedlings and GM radiata were grown together in the same greenhouse
when the permit conditions for the taeda seedlings specified they must be
confined to the laboratory.
"Scientists in the US would be horrified to learn this had happened - even a
perception that it might be in our exports would be a concern," he said.
Dr Smith informed the Environmental Risk Management Authority in late 2000
when it was examining the GM field trial application, which was later
approved. About 1000 GM radiata are now growing at Forest Research's Rotorua
site.
Dr Smith said Erma dismissed his concerns because the breach occurred before
the passing of the 1999 Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, under
which the authority was set up.
"Pine pitch canker is a terrible disease," he said. "It could devastate our
forestry industry and it should have been investigated as a biosecurity
issue."
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has started an inquiry after Dr
Smith's former colleague, Dr Hutcheson, wrote to Rotorua Labour MP Steve
Chadwick.
"The major problem is not so much the initial blunder by Forest Research,
but the failure of the system to correct it," he said.
Forest Research's Dr Christian Walter, who is running the GM pine tree
trial, is adamant his 1000 seedlings are not contaminated with the fungus
and were never grown with the taeda seedlings.
"I don't know where [Dr Smith's] evidence is but I can say the available
evidence I am currently collecting points to the fact the trees were never
together in the greenhouse," he said.
Forest Research's forest pathologist at the time, Dr Peter Gadgil, now
retired but regarded as a leading scientist in his field, said he tested the
taeda embryos and found no evidence of pine pitch canker infection.
Testing did not involve every batch because the tests destroy the samples,
but random testing was a recognised technique, he said.
"Obviously contamination has to be a possibility because you can't test them
all, but I think I had a reasonable chance of detecting anything."
Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said if Erma could not be trusted
to check a claim such as this, "what can they be trusted to do?"
The growing row
1995: Cell lines of embryonic taeda pines developed at Princeton University
in US are sent to Rotorua.
1996: Allegedly, 614 taeda pines are illegally replanted next to GM radiata
pines.
1999: Forest Research scientist asks Erma to investigate.
2000: Scientist makes submission to Royal Commission on Genetic
Modification, but alleges the version posted later on Erma's website was
"misleading and inadequate".
2000: About 1000 GM pine trees planted over 1ha in field trial at Forest
Research.

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