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GM Salmon and Canola warrant further check - ERMA

GM Salmon and Canola warrant further check

The Environmental Risk Management Authority has decided there are Grounds to Reassess the conditions for a genetically modified salmon research project and 4 GM canola field test sites. Copies of the Decisions are attached.

Salmon

Research at NZ King Salmon’s Kaituna hatchery has been going on since May 1994. The project was approved by the Minister for the Environment under a voluntary regime, on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Novel Genetic Techniques See background material attached.

ERMA New Zealand Chief Executive, Dr Bas Walker, says that the company has been conducting a legal operation since that time and has complied with the conditions that were originally set.

However, the voluntary system was replaced by statutory controls in 1998, when the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 came into effect. ERMA New Zealand has since been checking that all previous approvals have conditions consistent with HSNO requirements.

“In the case of this facility, it appeared that there could be an issue about the adequacy of the controls put on the original approval. The Authority had to consider if there were Grounds for proceeding with a formal Re Assessment. It has decided that it would be worth taking a closer look, to ensure that the controls are appropriate in HSNO terms and that any risks are adequately contained.”

Under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, it is now up to the Chief Executive of ERMA New Zealand to proceed with the next step in the process. Dr Walker said that he would be applying to the Authority to undertake the Re Assessment in a few weeks time.

“The Re Assessment application will focus on technical issues related to the adequacy of the containment controls. It will not be a full-scale review of the project itself. My concern is to ensure that the potential risks are being effectively managed – and that appropriate containment procedures are in place.”

It would probably take a further 6 - 8 weeks for the Authority to go through the formal Re Assessment process. The Authority has decided that the salmon research has the status of a ‘development’ project and that it should not be publicly notified. The reason is that the Grounds for Re Assessment relate only to the controls on the site, not to the approval itself.

However, the final Decision will be made public through the ERMA New Zealand’s monthly Bulletin and on its website at www.ermanz.govt.nz.

Canola

GM canola field tests were undertaken in the early 1990’s at Dromore, St Andrews and Lincoln in Canterbury and Pukeuri in North Otago. All the trials were completed in 1997/98. They were approved by the Minister for the Environment, under a voluntary regime before the HSNO Act came into effect. The approvals required the sites to be monitored after the crops were harvested, in case any further canola plants appeared.

The Authority wanted to satisfy itself that the sites were being monitored long enough, given that canola seeds can last in the ground for up to 10 years It has decided that the original monitoring period might need to be extended. [This was set at 4 years, or one year after the last canola seeding appeared on the site]

The Chief Executive of ERMA New Zealand has decided to approach the companies concerned to carry on monitoring the sites, rather than going back to the Authority for a formal Re Assessment.

“This is the most cost effective way to deal with the issue. The companies will be formally requested to undertake further post harvest monitoring and to remove and destroy any plants that appear. We will ask MAF to monitor and inspect the sites.”

Dr Walker said that the decision not to proceed with a formal Re Assessment application at this stage did not prevent other parties from doing so. However, where the Chief Executive of ERMA New Zealand is the ‘applicant’, the costs are borne by ERMA New Zealand.

Dr. Walker noted that this decision has no bearing on a potential application from Monsanto for the release GM canola.

“These were field tests and they are now completed. The possible Monsanto application – which has not been received – would be for the release of GM canola. Under the HSNO Act a GMO release (as opposed to a field test) is a full release. The Authority is not able to put conditions on how or where the organism is grown i.e. no controls can be set.”

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