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High Court Decision Leaves GE Sites Exposed.

High Court Decision Leaves GE Sites Exposed.

The High Court decision to reject legal challenges that could have required bio-security controls at a former GE trial site leaves a knowledge-gap that exposes New Zealand to unnecessary risks.

The case taken in the High court centred on the decision by ERMA and MAF to return the failed PPL GE sheep trial site to conventional farming without a period of quarantine or monitoring for unexpected disease or to allow viable genetic material to break down as the law requires.

In fact the site has never had any research or monitoring of any soil-borne diseases or survival of GE elements. The Whakamaru farm went straight into contract grazing of dairy cows, the most susceptible animals to tuberculosis and where any disease could devastate New Zealand's reputation and exports.

"The issues before the court once again show that ERMA is not up to the job the government has assigned them," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment. "There should be no arguing about monitoring a GE site of this size. The refusal by ERMA to do so is astounding and should concern farmers and anyone looking to maintain bio-security in New Zealand."

The High Court case highlighted the fact that the PPL field trial site was released without ensuring proper clean up of the facility. Arguments were raised about the possibility of the GE cystic fibrosis gene (hAAT) existing as viable genetic material in the faeces and animal cells, potentially recombining with a disease like Johne’s disease (Mycoplasma paratuberculosis). (Johne’s disease in sheep and cattle is the equivalent of Crohn’s disease in humans). This disease can be passed through animals grazing the infected land into the human food chain through milk and meat.

Justice Millar stated that even if he had been able to find in Claire Bleakley’s favour he would not be able to refer the Whakamaru Farms Ltd GE site for reassessment. This was due to the "containment facility no longer existing" and there is no way of imposing further restrictions on the site.

"This shows a huge gap in the law relating to new information that arises over time," says Mr Carapiet. "ERMA remains incapable of the flexibilty that allows it to learn from its mistakes: it simply ignores the problem. But the possibility of new diseases being created and transferred at the site as it is on-sold to unsuspecting buyers deserves investigation."

The risk should be taken seriously in light of a new hypothesis associating M.paratuberculosis, Bovine tuberculosis and BSE. Research and monitoring of this site is vital as there is a long delay before signs start to show: around five years.

In his decision Justice Millar did state that MAF may enforce existing controls on subsequent land owners where land has been used as a GE containment facility. He also observed that there is no obstacle to ERMA imposing conditions on new approvals to secure compliance with any post trial controls (monitoring and research) through granting of easements and parent company guarantees or other securities.

An appeal against the decision is being considered. But GE Free NZ in food and environment believe that it should not be left to individuals to take such cases.

The sloppy record keeping and the lack of any written decision by ERMA to evaluate the termination of the trial is a real worry. Without research and monitoring ERMA could be leaving potentially hazardous GE contamination in the soil which wold put at risk New Zealand's economy and biosecurity.

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