New Zealand authority faces court battle over GM (20/9/2007)

New Zealand authority faces court battle over GM
By Charlotte Eyre
AP Foodtechnology, 20th September 2007

The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) will face a court hearing in March 2008, after an anti-GM group claimed that it has illegally approved the field testing of genetically modified brassica.

Food manufacturers who are interested in pioneering GM products in New Zealand face strong opposition, as regulators yet again clash with the vocal anti-GM crops campaigners who are very active within the country.

Genetically Engineered Free New Zealand (GE Free NZ) first announced its decision to file court papers against the regulatory body last year, after ERMA allowed Crop and Food Research to field-test a brassica crop, the mustard family genus that includes cabbages and turnips.

The anti-GM group claimed that the possible outcome of the trial had not been examined in enough detail, and so could possibly damage New Zealand's economy, as well as the public and animal health.

"GE Free NZ has decided that flawed decision making cannot go unscrutinised," said Claire Bleakley, GE Free NZ spokesperson.

"The lack of necessary research protocols and experimental procedures over the ten years of the trials means that little knowledge of value will come out of the field tests," she added,

According to New Zealand news portal Stuff, the challenge has gained widening support in recent weeks, with Organic Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ), BioGro NZ, and the Biodynamic Association also filing in support of the appeal.

The case follows hot on the heels of complaints that ERMA had also allowed Crop and Food Research to carry out illegal field trials of GM onions.

Earlier this month, suspicions were raised that the research institute were importing GM Seeds from the US, a practice currently illegal in New Zealand.

ERMA was forced to investigate the alleged breach of security rules, concluding that the institute had not acted illegally, but had merely used the wrong form, which was "a minor clerical error."

According the Ministry of Environment (MOE), it is illegal to grow GM crops for commercial use in New Zealand, and there is no GM fresh fruit, vegetables or meat on the market.

If a field trial of a GM crop is approved, strict conditions are set to ensure that to reduce any potential risks to humans, our environment, plants or animals.

"The genetically modified plants or animals are not allowed to escape or to be released outside of the trial area, access to the facility must be restricted and scientists must ensure that heritable material, eg. seeds or cuttings, from plants does not escape from the field test site," the MOE said.

However, some processed foods in the country, such as soy-based products, may contain approved GM ingredients that have been imported, the MOE added

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