by Steffan Browning
During the Easter break, the 375 genetically engineered (GE/GMO) pine trees at the Scion (Forestry Research Institute) field trial site were destroyed. The current experiments were for herbicide resistance and reproductive alterations, both with potential environmental and human health implications.
The destruction that occurred was direct action rather than a Scion activity, 2 fences were cut through and the ‘alive’ and electronically monitored fence was tunnelled under. Scion may have been able to discourage the direct action if its security was as good as it portrayed during its ERMA hearing, where Scion suggested surveillance cameras would be operating. It appears that Scion failed to even notice the damage for at least 3 days.
I visited the Rotorua GE tree field trial site last Friday, at least 6 days after the event, and saw one of the scientists inspecting the perimeter of the electrified enclosure fence line. Last time trees were cut down there in 2008, rabbits were coming and going under the heavy security fence, and Scion were not meeting the then approval conditions, of weekly fence inspections or correct management of prunings.
The level of non-compliance and general slackness in the past included potted GE pine cuttings in the open developing pollen cones. This gave those following the ERMA hearing process, no confidence that pollen wouldn’t happen again, especially when ERMA said that non-GE control trees within the site could produce pollen, and approval conditions would deal with the risk of GE pollen escape. That was exactly what they had said about the pollen risk from GE brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and kale) at that ERMA hearing only a few years before. Even while an appeal to the High Court was being heard against the GE brassica decision, the brassica scientist (a friend and colleague of the Scion GE crew) had her GE brassicas planted and flowering in the open, and I discovered a further open pollen event at her ‘secret’ site months later.
The public have been able to actively scrutinise Scion’s operations for compliance to the EPA (formerly ERMA) approval requirements. Scion would prefer to operate in secret rather than have their activity monitored, and damage such as has occurred may encourage the EPA to allow a secret location.
As a Member of Parliament, I cannot condone illegal activity, but as a participant in the Scion GE tree and Plant & Food Research GE brassica hearings, I know why activists can feel the need to overstep the badly managed processes and take the law into their own hands. Legislation is a better way of correcting GE in the environment of New Zealand, and the sooner a government does it the better.