Harvest fears as MAF starts search for lost seed (12/5/2004)

Harvest fears as MAF starts search for lost seed

Thousands of genetically modified maize plants may have been harvested in New Zealand's biggest accidental release of GM-contaminated seed.

Harvest fears as MAF starts search for lost seed
New Zealand Herald, 12.05.2004
By ANNE BESTON, environment reporter

Thousands of genetically modified maize plants may have been harvested in the country's biggest accidental release of GM-contaminated seed.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has seized hundreds of bags of maize seed and is searching for missing bags from a consignment containing genetically modified seeds.

The ministry said yesterday that some of the seed could already have been harvested.

Enough seed from the contaminated batch to plant 351ha had been released to grain and seed merchants last year although it was unclear how much of that had been sold to farmers.

This year, MAF suspended American GM testing laboratory Biogenetic Services (BGS) after finding the company's testing procedures were deficient.

The ministry started a hunt in March for all BGS seed consignments for re-testing.

Yesterday, it said low levels of contamination - less than one GM seed per 2000 - had been found in two BGS-tested batches.

One had been seized and 351 bags of the other had still to be found.

"A quantity was released in the spring to grain and seed merchants who make that available to farmers, and we are discussing with the merchants who they sold it to," said MAF spokesman Brett Sangster.

MAF had been told the maize seed was grown only for stock feed, and posed no human health risk.

BGS tested 52 consignments from January last year until it was suspended after the ministry's audit this year.

MAF is also hunting the 37 other seed consignments not yet re-tested although they were much smaller consignments of select lines of hybrid maize.

Mr Sangster said the 15 consignments tested for GM - which included the two that returned positive results - were 80 per cent of the seed tested by BGS.

The GM "construct" in seeds which went to grain and seed wholesalers was LibertyLink T25, grown in the US and Canada for stock feed and approved by the New Zealand Australia Food Standards Authority as safe for human consumption.

But growing GM-contaminated seed of any kind is illegal in New Zealand unless it is approved by the Government's Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma).

Green Party MP Jeanette Fitzsimons said the Government had tightened controls on imported seed in 2001, but New Zealand was living with the "slack procedures of the past".

"It does dent our credibility in terms of our exports and food security and we have a market advantage if our produce is GE-free," she said.

The Government loosened the rules on GM last year, giving Erma the ability to approve field trials and pre-commercial release of GM organisms, including plants or animals. But each application must pass scrutiny through Erma.

And all imported seed must be certified GM-free.

Mr Sangster said the exact variety of GM contamination in the first BGS consignment seized by MAF and now in storage could not be identified because the contamination level was so low.

Herald Feature: Genetic Engineering http://www.nzherald.co.nz/storydisplay.cfm?storyID=131818&thesection=Story&t hesubsection=&reportID=53009

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