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UK report confirms NZ g-e trials not safe

June 18, 1999

UK report confirms NZ g-e trials not safe

Bigger buffer zones around genetically engineered crops look likely after new British research on accidential cross-breeding between transgenic and other plants, Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today.

But she believes that will not solve the problem and a moratorium on commercial growing and new field trials is needed more urgently than ever.

New Zealand field trials of genetically engineered canola have been approved with isolation distances as little as 400 metres and brassica crops have been grown as close as 800 meters from the trials. Yet a new British report confirms pollen travels at least 5 km carried by bees and further carried by the wind.

"Pollen or seed may have already spread from the New Zealand trials," Ms Fitzsimons said. "No monitoring has been done at distances like this.

"But worse, the Environmental Risk Management Authority in New Zealand cannot by law set any conditions on commercial release. Genetically engineered crops could be grown just over the fence from organic crops. We simply don't know the implications of spreading transgenic canola into wild turnips, or ultimately into the gardens of ordinary New Zealanders," she said.

The British Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food report publicised this week on "transgenic pollution" presents the most convincing research to date that genetically engineered plants can cross-pollinate. (UK Independent Lead Story 17 June 99). It has followed a number of other reports in recent months about evidence that transgenic plants have cross-pollinated with wild or domesticated cousins. For example in February the British publication Farmers Weekly reported that a Canadian farmer was surprised to find his genetically modified canola had spread to a field of conventional crops.

Today Ms Fitzsimons said: "The first application for commercial growing of canola is expected any day from Monsanto and this could then be grown over thousands of hectares of the South Island, endangering organic and non-g-e crops of all brassicas such as turnips, cauliflower and broccoli.

"Officials may opt for legislation to allow buffer zones to be set around commercial crops, but the scientific information is changing so fast we still do not know what those conditions should be. We must not allow these crops to be grown commercially until much more is known. We need a moratorium until a Royal commission of enquiry has considered, among other things, the effect of g-e crops on our increasing organic export market and our clean green reputation."

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