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MAF suspends US GM testing laboratory

Tuesday 30 March 2004

MAF suspends US GM testing laboratory accreditation

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) today announced that it had suspended its accreditation of US GM testing laboratory Biogenetic Services Ltd. An audit of this laboratory identified a number of issues that must be resolved.

MAF’s acting director of plants biosecurity, Dr Veronica Herrera said today that MAF accredits international laboratories to test lines of seed that importers seek to bring into New Zealand.

“MAF’s importation requirements specify that these laboratories use the best practicable measures and quality control systems to determine whether or not GM material is present,” Veronica Herrera said.

“We review all of our accredited labs to satisfy ourselves that they are meeting MAF’s requirements. Such a review has resulted in Biogenetic Services having its MAF accreditation suspended.

“The laboratory was one of three international laboratories accredited by MAF to perform GM testing on seeds of different varieties of corn (Zea mays).

“The laboratory has been informed of MAF’s decision to suspend its accreditation. As a precaution, MAF’s Quarantine Service has been instructed to detain at the border all consignments of seed tested by this laboratory and hold these for possible further testing by MAF-approved facilities. Seed importers will be advised of these measures.

“New Zealand’s policy is that if GM presence is identified, seeds for sowing cannot be imported,” Veronica Herrera said.

“This laboratory has co-operated fully with MAF’s investigations and is currently taking steps to ensure that it can be re-accredited as soon as possible.

“MAF’s last audit of Biogenetic Services was in October 2001. This facility has provided test certificates amounting to about 40 percent of corn consignments from the US since January 2003. Other imports from the US were tested by different MAF-accredited testing facilities,” Veronica Herrera said.

Independently of this audit, MAF has accredited a new US testing laboratory, GeneScan USA Inc (New Orleans). This lab joins AgriQuality GMO Services (Melbourne) and Eurofins Scientific Analytic (France) as a MAF-approved GM testing facility.


US GM laboratory audit – Questions and Answers

Tuesday 30 March 2004


1) What is the process for auditing laboratories? Why did this company fail its MAF audit?

The purpose of MAF’s audit was to ensure that the company’s practice met New Zealand’s standards for imported seeds for sowing.

MAF has been working with all of its GM testing laboratories to ensure they are accredited to the international standard, NZS/ISO/IEC 17025 (General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories), or equivalent.

As part of this process, MAF performed a site audit of Biogenetic Services Ltd.

This audit identified several deficiencies

MAF has suspended accreditation of this laboratory until it can be satisfied that the lab is fully compliant with MAF standards.


2) When did this laboratory fail its audit?

MAF visited the laboratory on 3 March 2004 and analysed the findings of the audit. The laboratory was advised by MAF on Saturday 27 March that it would have its accreditation suspended.


3) Will the testing protocol in MAF’s Import Health Standard be reviewed?

Yes. Rapid advances in testing methods require that MAF update its protocol accordingly to improve clarity. MAF recognises this fact and periodically reviews the associated documentation.


4) When was this laboratory last audited?

This laboratory was last audited in October 2001. Recently, the requirement for a base internationally-recognised quality assurance standard (e.g. NZS/ ISO/IEC 17025 or equivalent) has been added as a criterion.


5) What happens to seeds tested by this laboratory that are currently in transit?

MAF’s Quarantine Service has been instructed to detain at the border all such consignments as they enter New Zealand. Consignments in transit will have to be re-tested at another MAF-approved facility if required. New Zealand’s import requirements mean that companies must go through MAF-approved laboratories. Consignments that are currently being prepared for entry will have to use another of the MAF approved facilities. MAF will consider assisting with additional costs that may be incurred. Seed importers will be advised of these changes and the names and locations of alternative MAF-accredited testing facilities.


6) How many consignments for New Zealand has this laboratory tested?

There have been 52 consignments since the beginning of 2003.


7) How many other facilities are available to growers importing seeds?

Three. They are: GeneScan USA Inc, New Orleans, USA; AgriQuality GMO Services, Melbourne, Australia; and Eurofins Scientific Analytic, Nantes, France.


8) Is this a food safety issue?

This matter will only be of interest to NZFSA if it can be demonstrated that seed has been imported of a non-approved GM variety or if there is any other non-compliance identified.

NZFSA performed an audit of targeted foods and undertook product testing just over 12 months ago that showed a high level of compliance with New Zealand GM food standards. Follow-up testing is planned post July 2004. In the meantime, NZFSA is following developments closely and will act as appropriate should any food safety related issues be identified.


9) How long has MAF been using this laboratory?

Since October 2001.


10) Is there a tolerance or allowance for low levels of GM seeds to be imported into New Zealand?

No. The law does not permit GM seeds for sowing to be knowingly imported or planted. If GM seeds are detected, the consignment will not be allowed into New Zealand. However, there is always a chance that low concentrations of GM seeds may not be detected. The limit of reliable detection using qualitative methods is about 0.1 percent (one seed in a thousand). This is not a barrier between what is detectable and what is not, but it indicates the level where we can confidently find GM seeds. More recently, lower concentrations of GM seeds may be detected, to a lower reliable level of detection using quantitative techniques such as real time PCR..


11) How are imports of seed tested?

The New Zealand testing regime is one of the strictest in the world. MAF tests imported seed for growing in the environment at the border and if there is any indication of GM content it is not allowed in. MAF requires all consignments of sweet corn, maize, oilseed rape and soya bean seeds imported for sowing to be tested for the presence of GM material

In 2002, the sample sizes for testing for inadvertent GM content were increased from 1,400 to 3,200 seeds. This means that the current testing process will detect the presence of one GM seed in 1000 with 95 percent confidence.


12) Why not stop all seeds from countries that produce GM varieties?

Banning imports of maize seeds would have serious negative effects in several agricultural industries, including dairying where grain-feed and maize silage are widely used because we are reliant on imported seeds.

Imported seeds are important for many New Zealand agricultural industries – the price and quality of seeds affects the competitiveness of these industries. For example, maize is grown for food and is also an important stock feed in the dairy, pig and poultry industries. Many of the best quality seeds come from countries that grow GM crops, which are the world’s major seed producers. Banning seeds from those countries would limit access to those seeds and would probably raise the price of seeds, which would negatively affect those industries that rely on imported seeds.

Although the costs of a ban are not clear, the value of these crops gives an indication of their importance. MAF estimates that the annual gross value of maize is about $70 million and that it adds $60 million in extra production to the dairy industry. New Zealand also has a seed multiplication industry worth about $20-$30 million. This issue highlights that as a trading nation, New Zealand faces both risks and benefits from trade. A very strict Import Health Standard is aimed at minimising the risks associated with import.


Further Information:

Exporters and Importers seeking clarification or advice should contact Rob Taylor National Adviser – Seed for Sowing, Plants Biosecurity on 04 474 4100.

For more information about MAF and GM visit
http://www.maf.govt.nz/mafnet/rural-nz/research-and-development/biotechnology/gm-and-maf/index.htm

For further information about The New Zealand Food Safety Authority and GM visit
www.nzfsa.govt.nz/consumers/food-safety/gm/index.htm

For further information about MAF protocols visit: http://www.maf.govt.nz/biosecurity/imports/plants/papers/gm-seeds/zea-mays-protocol.htm

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