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Revealed: Hundreds of Acres of GE trials Planned

Revealed: Hundreds of Acres of GE trials Planned

Information released under an official information act request shows New Zealand could see hundreds of acres of GE crop trials within a year, putting the lie to government and industry claims that "nothing will happen" if the moratorium on GE is not extended.

The information released shows the expected number of GMO applications in the year July 2003-04, includes five field trials and two conditional releases.

In July 2004 onwards (9 months away) ERMA has indicated that there are another 3 "significant" GMO applications, 3 field trials, and 4 conditional releases likely. These could be "development" trials in an outdoor facility: in effect the same as a field trial only the New Zealand public would not be notified through the ERMA process.

"These could be a field trial couched as a development trial to keep the public in the dark" says Claire Bleakley from GE Free NZ in food and environment.

In the last few years no new field trials have been allowed, though existing ones have continued and in some cases even expanded. Results from research have still not been presented from the original applications approved for "scientific experience".

The main funding of one such "trial" by PPLTherapeutics has collapsed leaving sick animals, some struck with Johnes disease. Other problems include three rams with spongiform changes in the brain. This trial is now being left for New Zealand to hold while ERMA sorts out how it will deal with the situation.

However there is criticism from scientists who say the plan to incinerate the animals will destroy important scientific information that could be discovered from analysis of the brains, liver, and blood of these sheep.

"Now thousands of these animals have been brought into existence surely good science requires a proper study of them. But despite claiming the need to do scientific research the source of new data is literally being dumped," says Ms Bleakley.

Just as the PPL trial is ending, new trials could be of a significant size: 45h/a (112 acres) similar to an average small farm but clearly not a containment facility. The two conditional release applications could take place over large acreages throughout the country. The five field trials in "contained facilities" proposed include plants, invertebrates and animals.

If each trial is an application for more than one gene construct, (as in the earlier case GMD02028) independent scientists and the public will have no idea of the experiments actually taking place.

"The Labour Government's notion of 'conditional release' is misleading, as rodents, birds, wind and water are all vectors for DNA transfer. Large fields of 100 acres or more cannot be properly monitored" says Ms. Bleakley.

"With applications for more than one construct as in the AgResearch facility co-habiting the same 112 acres, there is danger of horizontal gene transfer and of the gene constructs causing the production of virulent diseases.

"What is worse is that ERMA admit no testing or evaluation of the soil, animal health or handlers health has been undertaken. So much for their claim to be interested in sound science".

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