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ERMA hearing on controversial GE pine trees

ERMA hearing on controversial GE pine trees

starts Wednesday

Auckland, October 31
Tomorrow, Wednesday November 1, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) will open the public hearing on the field trials of genetically engineered trees in Rotorua. The applications were filed by the Forest Research Institute (FRI) and involve pine and spruce trees engineered to be herbicide resistant. A second proposed field trial involves pine trees with genes that speed up the flowering process.

These field trials are very controversial and many people in New Zealand and overseas have expressed their concerns to ERMA. More than 735 submissions were filed with 709 opposing the field trial and 193 submitters wanting to be heard by ERMA. More than one hundred submissions came from overseas.

The key issues raised in the submissions included pollen escape, the dangers of horizontal gene transfer as well as unexpected side effects that could occur after the trees have been released. “Greenpeace believes that it is unacceptable to go ahead with such unpredictable field trials when there is a Royal Commission on Genetic engineering in process to assess the future of this technology. There are many uncertainties with genetically engineered trees and we are hoping that ERMA will take this into account and stop the field trials.” said Mario Rautner, Greenpeace GE trees campaigner.

The proposed field trials contain the nptII gene which is resistant to antibiotics. Swiss and Norwegian authorities do not approve field trials containing this gene because there is danger that antibiotic resistance can be transferred to pathogenic bacteria in the environment. This could have negative effects on medicinal use of antibiotics.
“The use of the nptII gene, which the FRI uses in its transgenic pines, is banned in Norway and Switzerland because it is not considered to be safe. New Zealand recently signed the biosafety protocol which includes the precautionary principle. This states that if there is the potential of negative impacts, science should not go ahead with the experiments. If ERMA accepts New Zealand’s commitment to the Biosafety Protocol, they cannot not approve these field trials, since some genes that are used in the experiment are considered to be unsafe,” said Mario Rautner.11 Note to the Editors: New Zealand signed the Biosafety Protocol on 24 May 2000. The Precautionary Principle is included in the Protocol.


For further information, contact Mario Rautner on (09) 630 6317 or on 025 927 301 at the ERMA hearing (Thursday and Friday)

1 Note to the Editors: New Zealand signed the Biosafety Protocol on 24 May 2000. The Precautionary Principle is included in the Protocol.

Mario Rautner Genetically Engineered Trees Campaigner Greenpeace New Zealand ===================================

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