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ERMZ Approves GM Onion Trial


27 NOVEMBER 2008

Erma Approves GM Onion Trial

The Environmental Risk Management Authority has approved with conditions an application from Crop and Food Research to field test genetically modified plants of the allium family, including onions, spring onions, leeks and garlic.

The application is to assess the performance of the plants in field conditions over a ten year period.

The approval is for a field trial site of a maximum 2.5 hectares and within that a small number of onion plants would be allowed to flower.

Chair of the Authority's decision making committee, Helen Atkins, said that among the many controls on the trial is a requirement that all flowering onions must be contained within cages. These comprise a rigid framework covered with a double layer of fine-mesh material. Laboratory-bred fly pupae would be introduced into the cages to carry out pollination. Because alliums are insect pollinated, the cages will prevent flies from transporting pollen to other plants.

All flies in the pollination cages must be killed before the cages are opened to prevent the possibility of escape.

All GM material no longer required must be killed on-site by composting or be removed to a containment facility for further research or destruction.

During the course of the trial Crop and Food Research staff are required to check the field test regularly (e.g. the pollination cages must be inspected daily for damage or dislodgment which could result in the escape of insects carrying pollen). In addition there will on-going surveillance and inspection by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to ensure that no GM plants escape from the site. There will also be two years' monitoring of the site once the field trial is concluded to check that no 'volunteer' alliums emerge.

It is the first GM field trial approval since 2007, and the fourth since 2001 when the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification said New Zealand should proceed with caution on biotechnology research.

The Authority's decision document can be found on the ERMA New Zealand website at


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