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ERMA faces 'defining' Cultural Test

ERMA faces 'defining' Cultural Test.

Responding to the marked change in New Zealand public sentiment since the last application for a GE trials is a defining test of ERMA's ability to consider cultural issues. It is also a test of how well the organisation has addressed the issues identified in the independent review of ERMA earlier this year.

The shift in culture and growing support for GE Free food and environment has been clearly demonstrated by the record number of public submissions received on the GE onions application - most against it proceeding, given the inadequate basis for the claimed research and obvious less-toxic alternatives.

Throughout the country 70% of New Zealanders encompassing chefs, primary producers, wine-makers, leading exporters, small businesses, scientists, doctors, and religious groups have come together to share a vision for preserving GE-free production.

A Crop and Food collaboration, as yet unconfirmed with Seminis seeds, and with suspected strong ties to Monsanto, aiming to produce RoundUp resistant GE onions, could well bring unacceptable risk to New Zealand. Given previous trials have never resulted in a commercial release the evidence is also there that there is no market for the products of the study.

The outside trial proposed is not fully contained and together with indoor research aims to build up seed stock for an eventual conditional/full release of GE onions.

Primary basic research, evaluating the onions both in contained experiments and existing US overseas trials, to look at effects on health and the environment, particularly soils, have yet to be carried out. Until these are complete, the current application for outside trials is irresponsible and unnecessary.

Crop and Food refused to state publicly the name of the collaborator, or clarify any financial benefit resulting from ownership of intellectual property rights in the liaison. They also refused essential information to submitters regarding the gene constructs used, citing commercial sensitivity.

GE Free New Zealand want a Parliamentary Commissioner for Biotechnology put in place as soon as possible to address public concerns as recommended by the RCI.

Oral submissions are being heard in Christchurch again today and tomorrow though only 10% of over four hundred people asking to be heard will be allowed to speak.

Summary of Issues to be raised in support of written submissions:

• We are concerned that the process of public hearings for this

application is inadequate for the purposes of the Act.

• It is impossible to comment on data that has been kept secret or is not available.

• The Review Team has made assumptions about the risks and other

significant factors that are inadequately supported by data.

• It is premature to proceed with this research until prior required research is available to guide decision-making, and to demonstrate the appropriateness of a field trial at this stage.

• If this stage is approved but does not give rise to useable data needed to inform decisions of the next stage the current proposed stage has no significant research value and therefore cannot be approved.

• Though not intended for consumption it appears the GE onions will be insufficiently tested to deliver the claimed research benefit of assessing "substantial equivalence" with conventional onions for food.

• There is an inadequate assessment of other benefits and costs,

including: Ownership of Data/ IP : Scientific concerns: Marketing issues; Comparisons to Breeding.

• It is both reasonable and necessary to meet the purposes of the ACT for ERMA to assess claims made by the applicant for the benefits of research in the context of previous studies and what might be prerequisite data for considering subsequent research.

• Cultural issues are inadequately reviewed or assessed.

• There is inadequate containment: soil is a toanga . Costs of soil removal, research and resuse of site have not been properly considered.

To meet the purposes and intention of the Act we request that:

• ERMA reject the application and advise the applicant of the range of data from fully-contained experiments, marketing research and cultural issues that is required to reasonably consider an application such as GMF 3001

• ERMA reject the application and advise the applicant of the range of data and research that would be required to deliver the claimed benefits for GMF 3001 as presented to date

• ERMA set controls proposed here including full containment in a

facility that will allow research into soil, run-off, soil microbes. Removal of that soil from the site may be best (at managing risks and uncertainties) and most cost-effective by requiring research to be contained in a permanent contained and multiple-use facility for future use.

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