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Corngate Lesson: Make Leaf-disc Tests Compulsory

Lesson of Corngate is to Make Leaf-disc Tests Compulsory.

Beyond the smoke and mirrors characterising the Parliamentary Select Committee report into Corngate there is one clear lesson to be learned: that legislation should make it compulsory to screen plants intended for seed-production.

Things have moved on from the debate over whether there was unofficial approval of contamination with the development of new protocols to effectively weed out GM contamination each season.

"We now have an identified system that will support seed-purity rather than force growers to fall into a spiral of increasing contamination," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment. "That system must be made mandatory."

Last month the Sustainability Council of New Zealand released details of the development by Pacific Seeds of a protocol for weeding out GM-contamination in plants intended for seed production. The process requires leaf-disc tests on parent-plants grown in greenhouses, allowing any GM-contaminated plants to be discarded.

The protocol will help prevent conventional GE-free food crops becoming increasingly contaminated by pharmaceutical-crops and other GE variants that threaten the integrity of the food supply.

To protect local and export markets the protocol should become mandatory in New Zealand and be required of trading partners supplying seeds for use here.

Whilst the Corngate report may consider a number of improvements to regulation aimed at protecting the environment, public health, consumer choice and our economy, the leaf-disc pre-test is a vital element to renew seed-purity each season.

Some seed-companies are also committed to using increased sample-size for testing at-risk crops to improve confidence in genetic tests. Other necessary changes include more rigorous auditing, and stricter labelling of GE-derived products. The government should take action now.

The issue of liability is also key. Companies that refuse to use the improved protocols are guilty of negligence and should be prosecuted.

MAF should also be required to align their administrative practices with the government's commitment to zero-contamination. Better systems for monitoring seed-distribution, instigation of clean-ups and for compensation are also needed to protect innocent parties from the failure of others

"Of course the system isn't 100% perfect and errors occur. But that's why it is vital to support the principles of zero-tolerance. It is the only responsible gold-standard benchmark that serves New Zealand's national interest," says Mr Carapiet.

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