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MAF urged to front up to GE contamination

Soil & Health calls on MAF to front up to GE contamination

The Soil and Health Association of NZ is calling on the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) to remove the secrecy surrounding the measures it is taking to remove GE contaminated maize plantings. Soil and Health Co-chair Steffan Browning, says there is no reason for MAF to conceal the specific locations where the GE contaminated seed has been grown.

Mr Browning, says MAF’s response to the contamination to date has failed to inspire confidence in its ability to contain this breach of biosecurity, and the public have a right to make their own assessment of risk from neighbouring crops, as well the adequacy of MAF’s clean up measures. Mr Browning said that responses to a letter from Soil & Health and MAF's own media releases last week raise more questions than answers. “MAF shows a poor understanding of cross pollination and regrowth risks. MAF appears to be leaving it to the maize growers to get it right, away from the communities gaze. How can MAF expect containment of this contamination with such a non inclusive approach?”

"The situation is still rectifiable if proper steps are taken. There is still the opportunity for MAF and the community to work together to ensure containment of low levels of GE contaminated maize. Neighbours, primary producers, and the community all share the risks of permanent contamination.

By cloaking its response in a veil of secrecy, MAF is preventing any outside assessment of its handling of the contamination. Yet Mr Browning says glaring inconsistencies exist between the disposal of unplanted imported GE contaminated seed and GE contaminated NZ grown seed that is being harvested for sale. The law stipulates it should all be destroyed says Soil &Health, and Mr Browning questions whether MAF is even going to each of the contaminated sites. As long as the location remains secret there is no way of the public knowing. Soil and Health is sending an open letter to MAF with 17 specific questions as an Official Information Request, in an attempt to elicit a more useful and informative response.

Soil and Health’s letter and MAF's GM Maize -Questions and Answers are both attached.

Dear Messrs Sangster and Ivess,

Thankyou for your response to our Official Information Act request.

Several concerns have arisen from your response to our OIA request, the MAF press releases of 28 May and also the lack of public information on the location and protocols being used to ensure enforcement of the zero tolerance provisions of the HSNO Act.

To our request for the location of all contaminated seed and any GE contaminated plants in NZ you have answered;

Where is the seed? All known remaining seed has been seized by MAF, labelled and is under secure storage.

AND what is the location of any GE contaminated plants in NZ? The seed was planted in the Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and Hawkes Bay regions.

However The Soil and Health Association of NZ needs to have more precise knowledge of the locations of contaminated maize grown so its members can ascertain the risks to their own crops, seed and honey, and to have confidence that this contamination is completely eradicated. Many of our members are certified organic growers whose certification standards have zero tolerance to GE contamination.

Could you please list the location and the addresses of the properties where the GE contaminated maize was grown? Please show or state how many properties are affected?

Some of your answers in your May 28 media release “GM maize-Questions and Answers” raise some serious concerns.

Regarding your proposal to silage the contaminated crops in questions 2 & 8, this ignores the fact that maize can grow from seed on the outside of a silage process. It does not address the normal leak of seed in transport from field to silage stack. Will MAF inspect the routes taken by transport?

In answers to questions 3 & 7, it appears MAF does not intend to visit all affected growers/properties. Will MAF visit all affected properties? And notate field location of contamination site? Will MAF notify the local communities? What instructions are growers under, ahead of protocols being written?

Question 6 suggests that kernels will not germinate. We believe this is incorrect. It is normal for maize to regrow the next season, and in mass where loading has occurred. Can MAF make an assurance that maize will not be grown in the same fields next season?

Questions 9 & 10. There appears to be a contradiction in destroying and re-exporting non planted seed and allowing growers to harvest, process and sell seed. What is the rationale in this? Has MAF costed the destruction of all contaminated seed? If so, what would that cost be?

Question 11. Does MAF accept that if there is cross-pollination that the level of contamination increases with every subsequent generation of regrowth?

Question 14. Has MAF considered the possible need for compensation for neighbouring growers or beekeepers that may have the GE free status of their produce impinged?

2nd Question 14 corrected to Question 17. Has MAF considered the possibility of only importing parent lines and growing under quarantine before further testing ahead of release?

Is MAF aware that the theoretical production gains of using GE crops are likely to be less than 1% production gain per annum with current breeding practise? Has MAF considered the national and regional economic growth benefits of an enhanced NZ seed industry based on our clean green image?

The Soil and Health Association is supportive of MAF’s stated aims of ensuring that this contamination is corrected. Soil & Health is concerned that all growers, either home or commercial, cannot ascertain the risks to the integrity of their production for themselves. We call on MAF to take a more open and inclusive approach to correcting this contamination.

Yours sincerely

Steffan Browning Co-Chair Soil and Health Association of NZ

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