GM pine trees in disease probe
New Zealand 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 site.
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 issue."
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has started an inquiry after Dr Smith's former colleague, Dr Hutcheson, wrote to Rotorua Labour MP Steve Chadwick.
"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 pines.
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
Pam's brand goes GE-free
NZ HERALD, 06.11.2003
The Pam's food brand will go GE-free, says Foodstuffs managing director Tony Carter.
The supermarket chain, which runs the Pak'N Save, New World, Four Square and Write Price stores, is asking for written confirmation from suppliers that the housebrand's products contain no GE ingredients. Without that assurance, the company would switch suppliers, Mr Carter said.