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ERMA decision fails the test of good science

ERMA decision fails the test of good science

ERMA's decision on GE onions is unscientific one and adds to public concern that the ERMA system is failing.

Comments from ERMA Chairman Neil Walker in news coverage of Monday's press conference suggest their decision was influenced by an aim to foster agribiotech - even if the science doesn't work.

ERMA seems to be trying to send positive signals to a few scientists who would otherwise be upset by a different outcome. This is wrong as it damages proper science, and the standing of the scientific community, for ERMA to try to "please" industry by a flawed decision.

The approval reveals serious information gaps, which ERMA is unable to fill.

Claims that these trials are a "platform" for research have been accepted by ERMA with no detail of who will do this research, what will be studied, or who will fund it.

In reality any useful research will be the responsibility of the yet-to-be identified partners and researchers, who will be piggy-backing on this unnecessary Crop and Food field-trial. There is no word about where the money will come from.

Data from previous field trials is kept secret. Basic research into the toxicology of GE onions has not been done, so the reasonable approach is for ERMA to demand proper feeding studies with GE onions produced in containment before taking the risk of open-field trials. No real scientific program has yet been proposed that would reveal any important new knowledge.

"ERMA has been asked to reassess the decision and not push on with approvals when they themselves admit trials will deliver no useful data and since the main objective has already been found to fail", says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment.

The latest US report shows the increased use of sprays with herbicide resistant crops, contrary to Crop and Food claims.

"They have done such experiments for years. Its a kind of scientific gravy-train and it is likely that in ten years this experiment will still not have identified any meaningful data on the environmental effects of commercial grown GE onions, or health effects on animals and humans from eating them," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment.

ERMA’s decision fails to reflect the cultural shift that echoes through many communities now opposing GE field release in New Zealand.

NEW US Data on GM crops

The recent Benbrooks Report on herbicide use in the US shows GM crops increased use by over 50 million lbs versus conventional cropping. This identifies problems of weed resistance and number of weeds showing tolerance to glyphosate after four seasons. Problems include

Spread of glyphosate-tolerant marestail (equisetum arvensis )

Shifts in composition of weed communities toward species not as sensitive to glyphosate

Early-stage resistance in some major weeds; and

Substantial price reductions and volume-based marketing incentives from competing manufacturers of glyphosate-based herbicides. (p6).

Dr Benbrook makes the comment that it appears the National Centre for Food and Agriculture policy (NCFAP) overestimated herbicide use on both GE and non-GE soybean acres but overestimated non-GE acres by a wider margin. Therefore it led to the erroneous conclusion that HT GE soybeans were treated with an average of 0.57 fewer pounds per acre (lbs./ac) of herbicides reducing herbicide use by 27.7 million pounds nationally (p18)


ERMA decision GMF03001

Benbrook CM (2003) Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Eight Years, BioTech InfoNet, Technical Paper No 6, Nov 2003,

Further reading:

Hartzler B ‘Are Roundup Ready weeds in your future II’, Submission to UK GM Science Review, 28 February 2003,

Lim Li Ching "GM Crops increase pesticide use" The Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) Press Release 11 December 2003,

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