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Corngate inquiry evidence of illegal tolerance

19 October, 2004
Corngate inquiry finds evidence of illegal tolerance

Green Party Co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons says the select committee inquiry into the 'Corngate' GE event has convinced her that officials introduced an "allowable" level of GE contamination to justify taking no action on the suspected contaminated corn crops.

"Despite the absence of some crucial documentation, my conclusion - backed by all but the Labour and UF members of the committee - is that officials should either have accepted GeneScan's conclusion that the seeds were contaminated, or conducted further testing," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"The reason they did neither is because of the adoption of an illegal contamination tolerance level to deal with the problem."

The Local Government and Environment select committee, chaired by Ms Fitzsimons, who also instigated the inquiry, today tabled its report into claims of a contamination cover-up, contained in Nicky Hager's book Seeds of Distrust.

Ms Fitzsimons said the inquiry had been seriously hindered because the multi-national bio-tech company Syngenta had refused to allow the committee to question the Australian laboratory that carried out crucial tests on the contaminated corn.

"A memo from the manager of the GeneScan laboratory concluded that the corn was contaminated but said a breakdown had prevented the completion of the tests," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"It is extremely frustrating that after an extensive inquiry the committee is no closer to knowing what data the GeneScan laboratory had in order to reach that conclusion. Both our expert scientific advisers believe that those tests, if completed, would have been able to resolve the issue of whether the corn was contaminated. Yet no official ever even phoned to pursue the issue.

"I am sure that if Syngenta thought that the GeneScan data would have led us to the conclusion that the corn was not contaminated, they would have allowed us access to it. We are unanimous in our recommendation that the testing regime must allow government regulators access to all laboratory information.

"Our other main frustration was that the oral evidence we received from officials was inconsistent with the written records. For instance, while officials told us the decision to allow the corn to grow was made by one MAF official, who decided there was no evidence of contamination, papers from the time instead record officials discussing a threshold for contamination and referring the decision to chief executives.

"That crucial meeting, chaired by the head of the Prime Minister's department, Mark Prebble, kept no minutes. The final evaluation reported that the contamination, if there was any, was less than 0.5 per cent.

"It was more than two weeks after the corn was approved for growing and further planting before the public were told anything at all about the incident. Parliament had just risen for the year. In my view this was an attempt to avoid public and parliamentary scrutiny. Cabinet was not asked for its approval of the tolerance level, only to 'note' certain actions by officials."


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