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ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

17 July 2002

DESTRUCTION OF CORN CROP COULD HAVE COST GOVERNMENT $1M

Environment Minister Marian Hobbs said if there had been any doubt about there being GM contaminsation the corn would have been pulled up. Looks like some other factors may have been at play.
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Destruction of corn crop could have cost Government $1m
By Francesca Mold
The New Zealand Herald,  16 Jul 2002

New Zealand--The New Zealand Government would have been liable for compensation claims of nearly $1 million if it had ordered the destruction of corn crops suspected of containing genetically modified seeds. (ref.3298)

Almost 400 pages of official documents relating to the contaminated corn scare were released by the New Zealand Government yesterday.

Among them was a copy of an email to Environment Minister Marian Hobbs setting out the cost of ripping up 178ha of suspect sweetcorn growing in Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough.

The identity of the person sending the email has been blacked out.

It advises that the corn would not be able to be replaced in the cropping system that year (2000) and would probably lead to compensation claims of between $3000 and $5000 a hectare. "Possibly more if contracts cannot be met, said the email."

The corn crop represented 3 to 4 per cent of New Zealand production.

The email, dated November 27, 2000, was sent in the midst of a furious row between officials about how to handle the crop that was suspected of containing GM elements.

The officials were faced with inconclusive laboratory tests but ultimately decided that the crop should be left in the ground. The email warned Ms Hobbs that she was at a "watershed."

"Too heavy a hand and the Greens will love you but in my opinion the genie is out."

The papers identify the GM element believed to be in the corn as a pesticide known as BT, bred into corn as a protective agent against corn borer.

The documents also contain repeated statements from some officials and the seed industry that inadvertent GM contamination was unavoidable and the likelihood of it happening in the future was growing along with the increasing number of GM crops being grown around the world.

A fierce scrap developed between the Environmental Risk Management Authority and MAF officials over consultation during the "crisis" period in December 2000.

The row related to suggestions of a "tolerance" level of 0.5 per cent to allow in crops with a small amount of GM present.

The papers suggest this level was set as a "voluntary interim protocol" but the idea was later discarded because it was illegal under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

The papers contain discussion about how to handle the release of information on the need to develop a practical protocol, and a public relations representative for seed company Novartis asks that the issue of the sweetcorn not be referred to.

There was also a suggestion that a press conference not be held because it would boost the significance of the announcement in the eyes of the media.

National leader Bill English told a press conference yesterday that he believed the moratorium on genetic modification was not working because it stopped the proper assessment of imports of GM organisms.

He said National would introduce a testing regime to ensure the risks were assessed and would then lift the moratorium.

MAF scientists said last week that a strict testing regime had been in place since last August and one shipment had been rejected because GM had been detected.

But Mr English said there was no way of knowing whether corn maize and canola seed imported before the testing had been genetically modified.

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