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Green Party Says ERMA Canola Decision Is Weak

The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) decision today on genetically engineered canola field trials in the South Island is so weak that it is almost meaningless, Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today.

After official concern that pollen or seed from at least one of the trails could have escaped into the environment, and after months of ERMA talk about what it might do, the authority has now asked the genetic engineers to continue in-house monitoring.

"I am astounded that so little is being done about such a high risk to the environment," Ms Fitzsimons said. "ERMA should stand aside and allow a neutral process such as my suggested Royal commission of enquiry to take over. We also need an urgent moratorium on such tests."

The ERMA decision comes after the Sunday Star-Times reported in April that a crown research institute trial using genetically modified canola could have spread into the surrounding environment.

Genetically engineered canola was field tested between November 1996 and November 1997 at Dromore in Canterbury and St Andrews, South Canterbury by Crop and Food Research, the same government agency which has been placing African clawed toad genes in potatoes.

In April ERMA chief executive Bas Walker was quoted in the Sunday Star-Times saying: "The netting used to cover the crop developed holes at one point which posed a risk of escape from containment".

The Crop and Food trials and several others were approved by the Environment Minister under a voluntary regime before ERMA was set up last year. The approvals required the sites to be monitored after the crops were harvested, in case any further canola plants appeared.

"The latest decision amounts to one government agency letting another agency (Crop and Food Research) off the hook," Ms Fitzsimons said. "In recent months British scientists have discovered their first hybrid 'superweeds' after the spread of pollen from a genetically engineered English canola trial crop to wild turnip plants. Some of these wild plants have inherited their g-e parent's herbicide-resistant genes and were able to breed," she said. "The discovery comes after Scottish research work found canola pollen 4km from the nearest plant.

"Rather than continue in-house and previously unreliable monitoring we need to know urgently whether genetically engineered pollen or seed has already escaped and a proper assessment of environmental risks."

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