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Seeds Of Distrust Author Replies To Government

‘Seeds Of Distrust’ Author Replies To Government Denials

News release 11 July 2002
From Nicky Hager – Researcher

‘Seeds of Distrust’ author, Nicky Hager, says that the Government seems to be trying to create confusion over the contaminated sweet corn story instead of actually refuting the evidence in the book.

‘Ministers have replied that the GE test results were inconclusive, Pete Hodgson has suggested there are additional test results that change the picture and the Prime Minister has said there was no contamination at all. These arguments deserve response, or the public will be justified in being confused by the conflicting versions of events. Although the science can be made to sound complex and confusing, the issues are quite straight forward.’

‘First, the tests. I was told only two rounds of tests occurred. There were initial tests by Cedenco (which first alerted the company and authorities to the contamination), and then all four companies that had parts of the contaminated seed batch ran tests on them. Cedenco supplied its additional test results to MAF and ERMA and it is these results that were written up in my book. I assume that these are also the results that Pete Hodgson is now talking about. The Government had received these results by 24 November 2000. As far as I know, there were no more tests after this.’

‘The central issue is that, in the weeks after these results arrived, a series of official reports (quoted and reprinted in the book) all stated plainly that there was contamination. That was the advice going to Ministers and it was being treated as a very serious issue. If, as the Ministers are now saying, they later came to have doubts about the certainty of the test results, why did they not simply request that the tests be rerun? That is what you do when there is scientific doubt.’

‘Instead, as far as I know, there were no new tests. Yet the main government scientist involved in the issue at the time wrote, in his 8 December report on the corn, that if there was any doubt the standard procedure was to rerun the tests until consistent results were achieved. I believe that the reason they did not rerun the tests was because the existence of contamination was not really doubted.’

‘Also, I am not certain about this point, but it appears that the government authorities never ran their own tests of the seeds. All the test results considered seem to have come from the companies. Leaving aside the fact that it by-passed the proper ways of making decisions about GE organisms in New Zealand, if the Government was serious about being strict and cautious about genetic engineering, why did it not run its own tests and, if necessary, rerun the tests until it was certain?’

‘Second, the Prime Minister said baldly that there was no contamination. However, nowhere in any of the internal official documents, did anyone ever claim that. I reprinted the main Cabinet paper on the issue. Although the Cabinet paper did everything it could to play down the issue, it told Ministers that a new regime had been introduced permitting GE seed contamination under 0.5% and then wrote:

‘…information on present sweet corn seed imports is that, against these parameters, there is no reliable evidence for concern about GM contamination.’

‘The key words are ‘against these parameters’. In other words, the contamination level was under 0.5% and therefore being regarded as acceptable.’

‘Helen Clark, interviewed by TV3 on Tuesday night, repeatedly made this point. She said that the Government had found that the contamination was below the set level and therefore it was OK. This is not the same as no contamination. It was indeed a ‘low’ level of contamination and below the arbitrary level the Government introduced after the crops were discovered – but even the conservatively low estimate made by the government’s science advisor amounted to about 15,000 GE sweet corn plants.’

‘I stand by all the information in the book.’

'Instead of fogging the issues, the Government could now release all the papers - e-mails, minutes, internal reports etc - and the let the public judge the issues for themselves.'

ENDS

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