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'Cornfusion' Grows

12 July 2002

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today that the Government and officials still need to answer serious questions about the GE corn contamination controversy.

"While yesterday's press conference by officials answered some questions, it also raised new questions and created confusion.

"I attach a list of questions that I think urgently need to be answered.

"On Wednesday I sent a letter to the Minister for the Environment asking for documents, as promised by the Prime Minister, to clarify what testing was done, when it was received, by whom and what the results were. I'm looking forward to the answers."

Questions on GE corn contamination controversy

Nicky Hager's book shows that test results were received on 01 November from Crop and Food, and on 24 November from Melbourne. It was presumably on the basis of these two tests that Bas Walker (chief executive of ERMA) said on 24 November "Bear in mind that in this case, there are already several positive tests for contamination which can hardly be ignored", and MFE said on 29 November "Some GM maize seed has been released in New Zealand."

* Were any further tests done after these dates, if so, by whom, what did they show, and when did officials and the Government receive the results.

* If as Minister Pete Hodgson has said, all of the last series of tests came back negative, why on 15 January were two scientists who were members of the ERMA authority, including the deputy chairman, asking "since we know that the Novartis sweet corn is contaminated, is it acceptable that it should remain in the ground?"

* Why are officials now claiming that a "tolerance threshold" of 0.5% was never Government policy when the cabinet paper presented to cabinet on 11 December 2000 stated "Ministers are advised that for purely practical reasons, the system would have to be set up in relation to a very low but nevertheless explicit level of allowable inadvertent contamination. The present interim proposal is for a maximum of 0.5% contamination in sweet corn."

* If a tolerance threshold of 0.5% was never Government policy, why did the head of ERMA and other senior members of ERMA believe until at least late February that it was, and that it represented a significant change in Government policy?

* If a tolerance threshold of 0.5% was never Government policy, why is there no record of anyone correcting the apparently openly mistaken officials?

* Why did the covering letter to the written report provided to the Royal Commission on February 28 state that there was no change in Government policy in relation to the measures taken around the suspected GM corn contamination, even though a confidential letter from ERMA chief executive Bas Walker on 27 February to acting Minister for the Environment Pete Hodgson expressed concern that "this statement could be seen as misleading... There is no way that [the 0.5% contamination allowance] can be construed as simply a continuation of existing policy. It presents a policy, which (in my opinion) will probably require legislative change to formalise."

* Why did it take until 28 February to provide a written report to the Royal Commission, when a cabinet paper from 11th December 2000 stated that "the Royal Commission will need to be provided with a detailed report of any information that has come to light during the investigation of this issue, and be invited to consider these issues as part of their deliberations."

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