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MAF Claims Rabbits 'PR Stunt' in Trial Breach

MAF Claims Rabbits 'Part of PR Stunt' in GE TreesTrial Breach

Many of GE Free (NZ) concerns about facility inspection have been backed up in the MAF report on the Scion GE Tree biosecurity breach, made public this week.

But despite obvious problems which included holes created by rabbits, the report finds 'no fault', and MAF merely re-iterate that implementation, compliance and strict auditing of facilities will make certain containment manual procedures are practiced.

They say they will be enforcing 2 yearly on-site audits to inspect and ensure
- Structural and operational requirements are being maintained
- Previous corrective actions requests have been actioned
- Plants correlate with the register
- Field test containment facilities are secure gates are locked, fences are intact
- HSNO approvals are being complied with

But the report shows that monitoring to date has been less than adequate, and even attempts to pass the blame by outrageous suggestions that rabbit-holes may have been 'deliberately' dug as a publicity stunt.

“What planet are they on that they believe rabbits are now acting as PR agents for people concerned about biosecurity? This allegation is not just wrong but blatantly whitewashes problems around sloppy management practices," says Claire Bleakley from GE-Free NZ in food and environment.

"Such suggestions show that MAF is not really ensuring robust operational practice but trying to shoot the messenger- in this case those who publicised the discovery of rabbit holes before Christmas- to hide their own failings and cover up sloppy auditing and inspection protocols.”

The fact that trees had not been 'hedged' to restrict their height and that at least one tree was larger than allowed in the trial-approval, is also a concern. Though the latter is explained as a "filler tree" there is clear potential for mix-ups in auditing.

“Confusion with heights and filler pines makes it very difficult to audit compliance:, says Claire Bleakey from GE free NZ in food and environment. "Surely all trees whether controls or GM, should be treated the same?”

The report also reveals mistakes by contractors that allowed GM material to be mulched.

“The unthinking disregard for containment of GM material is not good enough. Mistakes like this may have been happening more regularly, just this time they were caught. In integral systems like Organic certification standards, a wash down procedure is required to ensure that non-organic material does not get taken into the certified properties," says Claire Bleakley.

"What happened to the mower after it left the property? Did it continue to mow other grass verges? Was any GM material taken off site on the blades or wheels?”

The Forest Stewardship Council has stated that there should be a moratorium on GM trees because of concerns about their effect on animal, bird and insect life. Silent forests are not what our children should be faced with. We are still cleaning up what the previous generation sowed.

“ERMA and MAF must stop being apologists for the bad practice and poor operational procedures of GM companies. It's time they got serious and either implement robust protocols to keep field trials contained, or admit they are incapable of doing so and terminate them.”


References: MAFBNZ Investigation of Compliance and Monitoring of the Scion GM field test

Summary extracts from the MAF Scion GE Tree Report:

Report Findings:

Height restrictions:

"The tree heights have been carefully measured showing that the tops reach 4.8 metres, just short of the 5m maximum height."
GE Free comment: The ERMA controls state trees have to be hedged to 2m leaving a single leader. The trees have not been hedged and this concern was not addressed. There was a tree that reached 6m however it was excused as a filler pine planted before the trial had begun.

Disposal of prunings.

A pile of October pruning branches left to die had been mown/mulched this was deemed an accident by MAF being explained as the mowing contractor “inadvertently” mowning over the prunings.
GE Free comment: The removal of GM material on implements would contaminate outside areas and is a breach of the stringent ERMA controls.

The report goes on to detail the site security and containment integrity. Addressing the robustness of the fence to keep out rabbits saying the holes in photos published by OrganicNZ magazine were man made.
GE Free comment: MAF minimise claims about poor and inadequate fence maintenance by asserting that rabbit holes growning algae going down the outside and up the inside of the fence could have been made for publicity purposes.

Vermin control:
The report looks at vermin control. The ERMA MAF GM plant containment standard clearly defines vermin control. They explain the inability to control access to the facility by rabbits and they acknowledge that pine needles might escape but as they are not reproductive structures they deem them as not “heritable material”. In the original ERMA approval decision GMF99001 & GMF99005 they deemed containment breach highly improbable and thereby a “negligible” risk.


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