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Blind Eye to Forestry Threat Containment Breached

Authorities Turn Blind Eye to Forestry Threat as Containment Breached

Even before any 'conditional' GE releases have been decided by ERMA there are major concerns that GE tree field-trials planted out earlier this year have put New Zealand at risk.

An investigation is being carried out into the failed segregation of GE pine trees and plants infected with pitch pine canker by the Forest Research Institute, reportedly stored side by side in greenhouse conditions.

Pitch pine canker was described in 1999 by Kevin Smith Forest and Bird Conservation director as a major threat to New Zealand.

"The arrival in New Zealand of one fungus from the United States, the pine pitch canker, could wipe out our $5 billion plantation forest industry,”he said.

Despite voicing concerns about bio-terrorism in January this year, it now appears that the FRI itself imported this material and that concerns of cross -contamination were ignored by ERMA.

Failures such as these leave little reason for confidence in ERMA . The regulatory system is already in break-down mode and unfortunately it seems now just a matter of time before we see the costs of that breakdown.

In collaboration with HortResearch, forest health scientists apparently investigated the effectiveness of induced resistance to disease and carried out research programmes in quarantine to evaluate the effect of the fungus on other nursery plants.

In another story today biotech industry player Bayer were found having breached buffer controls in Australia by allowing a non GE variety in a buffer zone to flower adjacent to growing GE canola.


Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370


GM pine trees in disease probe NZ HERALD 06.11.2003 By ANNE BESTON

An investigation has started into possible contamination of genetically

modified pine trees being grown in a field trial at Rotorua.

The contamination allegations come from two former Forest Research Institute

scientists, Dale Smith and John Hutcheson.

Dr Smith quit his job at the institute in 1996 when he discovered GM pinus

radiata seedlings had been grown in the same greenhouse as imported pinus

taeda seedlings, in breach of regulations.

He alleges there was evidence the taeda plant material, imported from the

United States, showed evidence of being contaminated with pine pitch canker

virus, capable of devastating New Zealand's forestry industry.

Dr Smith, now an independent forest biologist in Rotorua, is adamant the

taeda seedlings and GM radiata were grown together in the same greenhouse

when the permit conditions for the taeda seedlings specified they must be

confined to the laboratory.

"Scientists in the US would be horrified to learn this had happened - even a

perception that it might be in our exports would be a concern," he said.

Dr Smith informed the Environmental Risk Management Authority in late 2000

when it was examining the GM field trial application, which was later

approved. About 1000 GM radiata are now growing at Forest Research's Rotorua


Dr Smith said Erma dismissed his concerns because the breach occurred before

the passing of the 1999 Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, under

which the authority was set up.

"Pine pitch canker is a terrible disease," he said. "It could devastate our

forestry industry and it should have been investigated as a biosecurity


The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has started an inquiry after Dr

Smith's former colleague, Dr Hutcheson, wrote to Rotorua Labour MP Steve


"The major problem is not so much the initial blunder by Forest Research,

but the failure of the system to correct it," he said.

Forest Research's Dr Christian Walter, who is running the GM pine tree

trial, is adamant his 1000 seedlings are not contaminated with the fungus

and were never grown with the taeda seedlings.

"I don't know where [Dr Smith's] evidence is but I can say the available

evidence I am currently collecting points to the fact the trees were never

together in the greenhouse," he said.

Forest Research's forest pathologist at the time, Dr Peter Gadgil, now

retired but regarded as a leading scientist in his field, said he tested the

taeda embryos and found no evidence of pine pitch canker infection.

Testing did not involve every batch because the tests destroy the samples,

but random testing was a recognised technique, he said.

"Obviously contamination has to be a possibility because you can't test them

all, but I think I had a reasonable chance of detecting anything."

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said if Erma could not be trusted

to check a claim such as this, "what can they be trusted to do?"

The growing row

1995: Cell lines of embryonic taeda pines developed at Princeton University

in US are sent to Rotorua.

1996: Allegedly, 614 taeda pines are illegally replanted next to GM radiata


1999: Forest Research scientist asks Erma to investigate.

2000: Scientist makes submission to Royal Commission on Genetic

Modification, but alleges the version posted later on Erma's website was

"misleading and inadequate".

2000: About 1000 GM pine trees planted over 1ha in field trial at Forest


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