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Government fudges response to "Corngate" inquiry

21 December 2004

Government fudges response to "Corngate" inquiry

The Green Party is deeply disappointed by the Government's lacklustre response to recommendations set down by the "Corngate" Select Committee inquiry.

Committee Chair Jeanette Fitzsimons said the Government report released today is astounding in its failure to propose new actions that address concerns raised by the Select Committee.

"The Committee had high hopes of a positive response but all the Government has said is: 'While we agree with the ten recommendations, we will not support any changes. Everything is fine now'," Ms Fitzsimons said.

"The Green Party was calling for border seed testing well before the December 2000 Corngate incident. Despite our efforts, the Government had no procedures in place to ensure compliance with the law and, following the incident, proper testing and audit procedures were not in place till early 2004.

"Our report strongly criticised officials for poor processes - their cavalier attitude to key record-keeping and their allowing the industry to help determine whether a threshold should be set and whether the crops should be pulled out. The Government has never acknowledged that these were serious breaches of proper process.

Ms Fitzsimons said the Select Committee recommended that ERMA and MAF set up best practice risk management systems. The Government replied that these were in place following the following the Nahkies Committee's (appointed by Environment Minister Marian Hobbs) highly critical review of ERMA's performance, but the Select Committee couldn't't find any evidence of concrete changes made.

"I'm particularly disappointed that while the Government apparently agrees that it should have access to any test results and lab information it wants, it then cites commercial sensitivity as a reason for not requiring any more than it does now. The Select Committee advised that seed companies should be required to report unfavourable as well as favourable test results, and that this should be written into test contracts, but the Government says raw data from testing labs is not necessary for border control purposes."

Ms Fitzsimons said seed/chemical production company Syngenta's refusal to release the testing laboratory from its confidentiality agreement had prevented the Committee from seeing vital data that would have thrown light on whether the Corngate seed was in fact contaminated.

"As a result of four separate contaminated corn seed import embarrassments, border control processes have improved out of sight. However all these improvements were the result of response to breaches. The Greens had been calling for officials to anticipate risk and act to prevent breaches. We still have no evidence that ERMA and MAF can think ahead and put in place measures to prevent incidents that have not yet occurred."

ENDS


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