ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

20 July 2002


"Clarkie's Corn cover up"

Greenpeace NZ has launched a campaign, "Clarkie's Corn cover up", targeting Labour leader Helen Clark over 'corn-gate'. Quite apart from a campaign of action based around the "clarkie's corn cover-up" theme, Greenpeace has presented compelling evidence of the extent of the ongoing cover-up on their website. This is based on an analysis of the allegations in Nicky Hager's book on 'corn-gate', the papers that have been released by the NZ Government, and the media statements made since the book was released.

Their conclusions are that:

(a) there is absolutely no doubt that corn contaminated by a genetically engineered (GE) variety, was planted, harvested, sold and eaten in New Zealand in 2001

(b) the Government knew about the contamination at the time, covered up the incident

(c) the Government is continuing the cover up now.

items below:
1.PRESS RELEASE: Clarkie's Corn Cover Up
2.The corn cover-up - evidence of contamination/evidence of cover-up
3.Fewer GM animals in NZ testing


1. PRESS RELEASE: Clarkie's Corn Cover Up

Auckland, 20 July 2002

20 July 2002 - Giant Clarkie's Corn Cover-up can greeting NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark at Westfield Mall in Manakau City, Auckland [image]

Giant 'Clarkies Corn Cover up' cans greeted Helen Clark on her campaign trail in Auckland today. The giant 'Clarkies' cans, and a can-to-Parliament campaign launched by Greenpeace aim to demand Government accountability over the GE corn fiasco.

Greenpeace has analysed the information in Seeds of Distrust and in the papers released by the Government. "There is no doubt the corn was GE contaminated. The Government covered it up at the time and is continuing the cover up now", said Annette Cotter, GE campaigner for Greenpeace.

The scientific report to the Government at the time confirmed that there was "less than 0.5 per cent GM contamination" - not that there was no contamination. If there were any questions over the science at the time why weren't further tests conducted?

The Government covered up the incident by creating a threshold to allow contamination, confusing the science and using a public relations spin to avoid scrutiny.

What is even worse is that the Government is continuing the corn cover up now. They continue to deny GE contamination despite the evidence that shows they knew about it at the time. The public relations 'spin' over the last week perpetuates the confusion. Additionally, not all the tests that recorded positive for GE contamination are available for public scrutiny.

Government and ERMA's handling of the corn crisis was incompetent. Critical information was kept from the public and the rules changed to allow the contamination to remain, pollinate and be assimilated into the food chain.

The corn can-to-Parliament campaign encourages people to send their questionable can of corn to Parliament and ask for a replacement. The corn can wrapper asks the Government to confirm a zero tolerance for all seed imports; that the farm sites be investigated and decontaminated; and that GE releases be banned. The wrapper can be downloaded here:

 "This season's corn seed imports begin in four weeks, so we must act now. The regulatory bodies have proven they  cannot do the task assigned to them. The corn fiasco highlights the necessity for the Government to maintain the moratorium and halt all GE field trials", Cotter concluded.


1 Evaluation of Information Received for Novartis Jubilee Sweetcorn Lot NC9114, Donald Hannah, Manager, Science and  Research, 5th December 2000.
2 Environmental Risk Management Authority


2.  from the Greenpeace website: The corn cover-up [EXCERPTS]

Questions continue to be raised about the role the Government and its agencies played in the 'corngate' incident revealed in Nicky  Hager's book Seeds of Distrust, on 10 July 2002.

Greenpeace has analysed the allegations in the book, the papers released by the Government, and the media statements  made since the book was released. We have no doubt that  corn contaminated by a genetically engineered (GE) variety,  was planted, harvested, sold and eaten in New Zealand in 2001. The Government knew about the contamination at the time, covered up the incident, and continues the cover up now.

The following presentation outlines the evidence of contamination and of a Government cover-up

1. evidence of contamination

MYTH 1 - Final tests  were inconclusive.

FACT - Final tests confirmed that the corn had GE contamination of less than 0.5%.


Lead scientists from ERMA considered the corn was contaminated after the final test results had come in by 5 December, 2000.

Dr Hannah's report from the 5 December 2000 states, "...with a considerable degree of confidence it can be concluded the Novartis sweet corn ... has less than 0.5% GM contamination."

Dr Hannah never concluded that the corn was not contaminated, only that the level of contamination came under the Government's then allowable threshold of 0.5%.

The Government still acknowledged that the corn was contaminated in January 2001, as the Prime Minister's office, MAF, ERMA and the Ministry for Environment were still considering crop destruction at this time.

In a memo from Dr Oliver Sutherland and Lindie Nelson, Deputy Chair ERMA to the ERMA Board on 15 January 2001 they state in relation to the GE corn release:

'Since we know that the Novartis sweet corn is contaminated, is it acceptable that it should remain in the ground?' and "it is a very substantial number of completely uncontrolled GM plants now growing in the field. '

These statements are based on Dr Hannah's report, 5 December 2000. Bas Walker confirmed on 12 July 2002, that Dr Hannah's report was "the final scientific comment" (Myth 2 below).

Evidence from the 400 pages released by the Government on Friday 12 July show that the GeneScan laboratory considered the corn to be contaminated. In a letter to Novartis received by the 5th December they state:

'Our experiences in qualitative testing leads us to believe the samples received contain trace amounts of GM sweet corn'

Independent scientists have examined the evidence so far supplied publicly and also reached the conclusion that the corn was contaminated. Associate Professor Peter Wills, University of Auckland stated on Wednesday 17 July, 2002 that:

'there is not proper scientific basis for categorical claims (such as those emanating from the Prime Minister and  Minister for the Environment) that corn from Lot NC9114 was not contaminated with genetically engineered Bt11 kernels'

MYTH 4 - The samples that registered positive to GE were due to soil contamination.

FACT - The final assessment of all of the results considered and dismissed the possibility of dirty samples creating "false positives". Also, at least one sample that registered positive for GE was from an unopened seed bag and could not have been contaminated by soil.


Allegations have been made that the positive results from Crop and Food were due to soil contamination. However in a logged conversation between Crop and Food and ERMA representatives on 15 November 2000, laboratory representative Dr Gail Timmerman ruled out the possibility of soil contamination. The logged note states:

"Crop and Food did not notice any soil remaining on washed sample. Would perhaps need a lot of bacteria in the washed sample to give a false positive signal. So assume that the result is not due to contaminations by bacteria."

Dr Hannah looked at the positive test results and determined that lab error or dirty samples resulting in 'false positives' was unlikely because the labs ran identical tests on 'controls' (on seeds known to be GE free). The controls registered negative while the Lot NC9114 seeds registered positive .

Three samples were sent to GeneScan during the second round of testing . One of these was from an unopened bag and so could not have been contaminated by soil.

Some results from other unopened bags have not been revealed. The results from the sample sent to the USA during the second  round of testing was also from an unopened bag. No results have been supplied for this sample.

5. MYTH - Positive results were due to 'false positives'

FACT - The possibility of 'false positives' was considered and dismissed in the final analysis of all the results in Dr Hannah's advice to the Government.

The most statistically sound tests registered positives, and separate laboratories registered positives. No further tests were conducted to justify a theory that the positives were 'false'


Dr Hannah looked at the positive test results and determined that lab error resulting in 'false positives' was unlikely because the labs ran identical tests on 'controls' (seeds known to be GE free). The controls registered negative while the Lot NC9114 seeds registered positive. He also concluded that the contaminant was likely to be a GE variety Bt11 .

The GeneScan lab results are likely to be the most reliable. Their samples were 100 times the size of the samples sent to Crop and Food [who commissioned a scientist, Dr Poulter, who's claimed he proved it was 'false positives']. An important limit on the technical ability of reliably detecting GE contamination is sample size. The larger the sample the more statistically reliable it is. Three of the known results from GeneScan were positive. These were the largest size and therefore most reliable.

Positive test results were recorded from at least two separate laboratories from the range of results currently available to the public: Crop and Food (from the Cedenco sample on the 5th November 2000) and GeneScan (final round of tests, 24 November 2000). It is unlikely that positive results from two separate laboratories could all be 'false positives'

If there was any uncertainty surrounding the test results (eg. that the positives were 'false'), then further tests would have been required to be able to categorically dismiss the positives registered as 'false'. No such tests were conducted and so Dr Hannah's conclusion based on all the tests that were conducted, still stands: the corn was contaminated with GE material.

Further evidence that the corn was contaminated

Two types of chemicals indicate the presence of GE in a sample: the 'switch' for an engineered gene (promoter), and the 'switch' (terminator). The presence of either indicates GE.

Four samples tested positive for the terminator found in the GE corn Bt11. The promoter or 'switch' called 35S was expected to be found in the samples if the GE corn was Bt11. However the presence of 35S can be difficult and can yield unstable results. This has been widely discussed in scientific literature. Therefore the absence of 35S does not rule out GE contamination, if the terminator (nos) has been found.

2. evidence of cover-up


The Government knew that the corn was contaminated and covered up the incident in four ways by:

*denying that the  corn was contaminated with GE
*creating a threshold for GE contamination that made the GE contamination
*confusing the interpretation of the science
*establishing a public relations plan to counter public concern if the evidence ever came to light.


3. MYTH - The government came clean after Seeds of Distrust was published, by releasing all the information necessary.<

FACT - The Government  has not released all the evidence. The test results from GeneScan that showed positive results were not included in the 400  pages released on Friday 12th July, 2002.


The Government released 400 pages of evidence on 12 July to 'clarify' the situation. However they selectively revealed evidence and only supplied the reports of the negative tests. Both the report received from GeneScan by 5 December 2000, and the qualitative tests that recorded positive for GE contamination are not available for public scrutiny.

The GeneScan letter suggested that further tests were to be conducted using more sophisticated techniques called 'Quantification by Online-PCR'

Were these tests conducted and if so what were the results?<

Were the results supplied to Novartis and did they pass them  on to the Government?

4. MYTH - There was never any denial of contamination - it just wasn't statistically significant.

FACT - There have been a number of contradictory statements made since Seeds of Distrust was released.


Statements made on Friday 12 July, 2002 by Bas Walker the head of ERMA was that "at no stage have we said categorically there was no contamination."

Helen Clark on Checkpoint on National Radio on 10th July stated "there was no GM proven in the seeds". She also stated in the Dominion Post on 11th July "extensive testing could not find any evidence of GM presence in those plants".

Marian Hobbs press release on Wednesday 10th July states, "It cannot be claimed therefore that GM material was released" and she maintained that position on 3 News on Thursday 11 July

1. The seeds were contaminated and the Government knew about it.

Dr Hannah's report to the Government confirmed the presence of GE on 5 December 2000

False positives and soil contamination were considered and ruled out by Dr Hannah in his report. Soil contamination was ruled out by GeneScan in their letter 5 December letter.

If there was confusion, why were no further tests conducted? The Precautionary Principle should have been instigated if there was uncertainty. If the science was uncertain, the seeds shouldn't have been planted out.

2. The Government covered it up at the time by:

Denying the presence of GE contamination

Changing the threshold to accommodate a level of contamination

Confusing the science
Using public relations spin

3. The Government is continuing the cover up now by:

Denying the contamination existed by relying on their misinterpretation of the conclusions that they used at the time that contamination was below detectable levels.

Perpetuating confusion over thresholds and detectable levels of contamination.

Using the same PR lines that they developed for use at the time.

The tests that recorded positive for GE contamination are not available for public scrutiny.


3.  Fewer GM animals in NZ testing,1227,115943-1-7,00.html
July 13, 2002

There has been a significant drop in the number of genetically modified animals used in science in New Zealand. The latest statistics from the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee show that last year about 1500 GM animals were used in research, testing or teaching. That number is down from about 5000 in 2001; the lowest level in five years.

The Ministry of Agriculture's Animal Welfare director, Dr David Bayvel, sees the current debate over genetic modification as a factor in that reduction. Bayvel says the use of genetically modified animals in science is on a very small scale here, compared with Europe and North America. The statistics also show a 65% drop in the number of animals that experienced severe or very severe suffering in the name of science last year, after an increase in the year 2000.

Bayvel says that relates mainly to the research and production activities of animal health companies. Overall, 320,000 animals were used in research, testing and teaching in the past year; a 2% drop. Bayvel says while that is not significant, researchers are continuing to make progress in developing alternative tests for vaccines and other products that do not require the use of animals. He says great steps have also been made in the use of computers instead of animals in agricultural and veterinary teaching.

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