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ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
10 July 2002

LIES AND COVER UP - PM AND CABINET CAUGHT IN CONTAMINATED CROP CONCEALMENT

Contaminated crop secretly grown, harvested, sold and possibly exported:

"The cover-up exposed today in Seeds of Distrust is an outrage. This illegal, dishonest and unacceptable series of events resulted in the contamination of our sweetcorn and environment"  - Greenpeace press release

"...in this case - the largest known release of GE plants ever into the New Zealand environment - the Government decided not to have the plants removed... and did not even tell neighbouring farmers and residents"  - Nicky Hager, author of the new book, 'Seeds of Distrust'

The last time Nicky Hager published a book exposing a campaign of collusion between big business and the New Zealand government, it helped bring down the Prime Minister.

"A committee of the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), the Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), big business and the Government conspired to keep crucial information from the public." - Greenpeace

"We have agonized over the risks of very small pollen escapes and how we could prevent these. It is ironic to find that Cabinet and officials are taking a less cautious approach to a release decision."  - confidential memo from the regulators, EMRA

"The clear inference is that the Government is prepared to over-ride the whole regulatory system if it is politically expedient and helpful to big business. The Government fooled the nation, and now their word on GE cannot be trusted." - Green Party co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons

"There is a full chapter of the book looking at the ways that the scientific results were bent to political ends.

"The Government had two legitimate options: a) destroying the crops using the powers of the Biosecurity Act or b) making a formal application to ERMA under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act to legitimise possession of the GE sweet corn. It did neither..."  - Nicky Hager, author of 'Seeds of Distrust'

MULTIPLE ITEMS FOLLOW

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Green Party press release

10 July 2002

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today she is stunned by revelations that the Prime Minister and other key Ministers might have been involved in a cover up of a large release of GE sweet corn.

"I am deeply distressed that the Prime Minister apparently decided to let this contaminated crop be grown, harvested, eaten and possibly exported in 2000/2001, and that the Government participated in efforts to keep the truth from the public.

"This will shake public confidence in the Government over GE to the core, especially given allegations that lobbying from big business played a major part in the Government's decision."

Ms Fitzsimons said the Government had by-passed ERMA - the regulatory body which they were asking the public to put their trust in - and had not told the Royal Commission the whole story.

"In Nicky Hager’s book which broke the story today, he quotes two members of ERMA as having deep concerns over the Government's actions. In a confidential memo, they say "We have agonized over the risks of very small pollen escapes and how we could prevent these. It is ironic to find that Cabinet and officials are taking a less cautious approach to a release decision."

"The clear inference is that the Government is prepared to over-ride the whole regulatory system if it is politically expedient and helpful to big business. The Government fooled the nation, and now their word on GE cannot be trusted.

"Their main argument for the lifting of the moratorium on commercial release of GE is that they have instituted the safest regulatory regime in the world. How hollow is that assurance now?

"More than ever the Greens are needed to keep the next Labour Government honest. Keeping the moratorium in place and testing every batch of seed is the only sure way to keep GE out of the environment."

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Lies, damn lies

Greenpeace New Zealand , Ph (09) 630 6317, Fax (09) 630 7121
www.greenpeace.org.nz

Wednesday 10 July, 2002, Auckland:  The cover-up exposed today in Seeds of Distrust is an outrage. This illegal, dishonest and unacceptable series of events resulted in the contamination of our sweetcorn and environment, Greenpeace said today.

A committee of the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), the Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), big business and the Government conspired to keep crucial information from the public.

"The Government is guilty of lying to the public about GE contaminated sweetcorn, and refusing to rectify the situation by removing the crop.  For all their cautious words, they have actively allowed a release of GE corn into our environment. This shows the collusion of big business and the Labour Government and its pro-GE agenda," said Annette Cotter, Genetic Engineering campaigner today.

"The Government knowingly allowed GE contaminated seeds to be planted here during it‚s own Royal Commission of Inquiry into Genetic Engineering. The Government has misled the Royal Commission. If they‚d been honest to the Inquiry, the Report may have been very different.  This revelation makes a mockery of that whole process.

"To add insult to injury, ERMA assisted the Government in the cover-up by withholding critical information from the public during the Royal Commission.

"ERMA is a body that is touted as being the most stringent in the world. Now they’ve allowed GE to be grown illegally. ERMA clearly cannot be trusted."

Seeds of Distrust raises more serious questions about our biosecurity. "What else has been contaminated? Is this season's corn contaminated with GE?" said Cotter.

"Urgent action is needed to address this crisis. The Government must act immediately to ensure New Zealand's biosecurity has a regime of zero tolerance to GE contamination. The crop sites must be immediately decontaminated. Every seed shipment that comes into the country must be tested for GE contamination," said Cotter.

"The revelation of GE contamination revealed today is not a justification for saying it‚s all too late and that New Zealand should accept GE. The Government must take every possible action to eradicate this contamination and ensure a GE Free future," Cotter concluded.

Contact: Annette Cotter 021 565 175     Vanessa Atkinson
025 927 301

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New Zealand News: Seeds Of Distrust 'not anti-GE'

http://www.lifesciencenz.com/news-detail.asp?newsID=1728
Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Life Sciences Network

Nicky Hager gives some background to his new book 'Seeds of Distrust':

Is this an anti-genetic engineering book?

This is not a book for or against genetic engineering. It is about issues of accountability and open government, in the context of the controversial GE issue. The main theme is that decision making about a contentious new technology like genetic engineering needs to be built upon openness and a public belief that those in charge can be trusted. That is what the current Government says too, but not what it did in the case of the contaminated sweet corn.

Is this a political book, deliberately timed for the elections?

Any journalist who came upon this story would use it. Nicky Hager first heard the story earlier this year while doing research for another book. He began to investigate it, initially for an article and then he decided it was too big for an article and began writing the book. He hoped it would be finished well before the election. When the Government called the snap election, he had to decide whether to finish it quickly or leave it until after the election. The issues raised seemed too important to leave.

Is the book trying to help the Green Party against Labour Party?

No. This is the kind of subject Nicky Hager usually researches and writes about. He published books on issues of Government secrecy and lack of accountability before both the 1996 and 1999 elections, when the National Party was in power.

Concerning the contaminated crops: no one died, what's the problem?

This is not a 'shock, horror' dangerous food story. The book does not present evidence that eating the GE sweet corn would have harmed anyone. The effect on the environment is unknown. The story is important for other reasons. People had a right to know about the sweet corn and make their own choices whether to eat it (this is particularly the case with Maori people who feel strongly about genetic engineering). The authorities go to huge efforts to stop any GE pollen or seeds escaping from small field trials, because of lack of understanding about the long- term environmental effects. Yet in this case - the largest known release of GE plants ever into the New Zealand environment - the Government decided not to have the plants removed (which initially it made arrangements to) and did not even tell neighbouring farmers and residents.

Perhaps the Government decided that the GE sweet corn was not a threat and so it could be left in the ground.

New Zealand has a strict statutory process for any release of genetically engineered organisms - the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act. The Government had no authority to ignore those procedures and make ad hoc decisions about the sweet corn. What is the point of an agency like ERMA if the Government simply bypasses it when it feels like it?

The Government will argue that the GE contamination tests initially showed contamination but that later analysis showed that it could not be said with certainty whether or not there was contamination.

If the Government decides to evade the issue, this is likely to be the argument. It may say the contamination was 'negligible' or the evidence unclear. There was no question of contamination. Although contamination percentages sound small (just parts of a percent), there were at least 15,000 -30,000 GE plants in the environment. Under New Zealand law, even one GE plant (once known about) was illegal and should have been dealt with. But the Government chose to fudge the issues. There is a full chapter of the book looking at the ways that the scientific results were bent to political ends.

The Government had two legitimate options: a) destroying the crops using the powers of the Biosecurity Act or b) making a formal application to ERMA under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act to legitimise possession of the GE sweet corn. It did neither of these.

Source: Press Release by Nicky Hager, July 10, 2002

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Demand for inquiry as Government stands condemned of duplicity over GE corn plantings

PRESS RELEASE- 10 July 2002
GE Free New Zealand (In Food And Environment) Inc.
PO Box 693, Nelson            gefree@ts.co.nz
www.gefree.org.nz

The decision by the government to allow GE-contaminated maize to planted in New Zealand shows an alarming level of duplicity and further undermines public confidence in the government policy on GM bio-security.

GE-Free New Zealand (in food and environment) are demanding a public inquiry to investigate the incident that occured during the Royal Commission's voluntary-moratorium period. The investigation should include the role of vested interests from the biotechnology industry in pressuring government to accept the contaminated seed.

The contamination is a wake-up call to regulators and the public that New Zealand cannot afford to drop its standards for bio-security and zero-tolerance for GE contamination if we want to protect our economy.

'"If you find a fire in your kitchen, you don't let the whole house burn down. You put the fire out and prevent it from doing more damage," said Jon Carapiet, a spokesperson from GE-Free New Zealand (in food and environment).

"Unfortunately it seems that in the case of this GE-contaminated seed, the government decided to let the fire burn, because it was commercially more convenient than stopping it."

Claims by author Nicky Hager in a new book " Seeds of Distrust" indicate that Minister Marion Hobbs knowingly allowed GM-contaminated maize to be planted in Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Marlborough.

The book also claims the board of the Environmental Risk Management Authority, (ERMA) were not told about the decision to allow the plantings till after it was made. The author highlights an internal ERMA memo saying it was still not too late to pull out the crops and inform the public of the accident.

"GE-Free New Zealand (in food and environment) have challenged Marion Hobbs on this issue before, and have had our concerns dismissed. For years we have been pleading for MAF to test all potentially-contaminated batches of seed, especially maize," said Mr Carapiet.

The GM-contaminated crop may have contaminated other farms - conventional and organic - but these have not even been tested. The Liability issue must be resolved, but the government should immediately move to fund this testing. They should also fund testing and decontamination of the GE-Tamarillo field trial in Northland, about which even the Royal Commission on GM backed public concern.

Pressure from the biotechnology industry to turn a blind eye to the contaminated seed and allow it into our fields must also be investigated. There may be a hidden agenda to force countries to accept contamination by GM so that they have no option but allow GE food and crops that have been mixed into the mainstream non-GE food systems.

"If this is the case, it is unethical and will deny all people the right to avoid GE-food. It is not just a safety issue. People do not want to be forced to eat GE food for many different reasons including safety, diet, cultural tradition, ethical values, and religious belief, " said Mr Carapiet.

"Biotech industry lobby-groups like The Life Sciences Network are claiming the contamination has no proven health or safety implications. Where is their evidence, and why are they not concerned about this basic breakdown in regulation and its potential to damage our economy? They seem to believe that because importation of illegal organisms - including GM organisms - cannot be completely stopped -New Zealand shouldn't bother with strict biosecurity measures. We disagree," said Mr Carapiet.

ENDS
Jon Carapiet- 09 815 3370

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