GM contamination risk investigation

8 August 2002

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) was notified yesterday (7 August 2002) about the possible risk of GM contamination of maize seed grown and harvested in New Zealand.

The notification to MAF followed routine post-harvest testing of maize seeds on 6 August 2002 by Pacific Seeds of Australia who had contracted for the maize to be grown in New Zealand on their behalf by contract growers at Gisborne and Pukekohe. None of this maize seed was grown for consumption and none of it has entered the food chain.

All seed from the maize crops in question, and left-over seeds imported for the purpose of growing these crops, is currently being held in secure storage supervised by MAF. All of these seeds will be destroyed by Pacific Seeds under MAF supervision.

MAF and the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) will investigate whether any further action needs to be taken at the sites where the maize crops were grown.

The possibility that the tests conducted by Pacific Seeds were false positives cannot be ruled out at this time. Pacific Seeds is currently conducting additional tests to validate the 6 August results and also examine in closer detail the seed DNA. MAF has also arranged for parallel testing in accredited international laboratories of seed material from the maize crops harvested in New Zealand and also from the imported parent lines of these crops.

The parent lines were tested prior to their import into New Zealand and no GM material was found. MAF is also arranging for samples from the original parent seed lines to be tested to validate this.

MAF Group Director Policy Larry Fergusson said that MAF and ERMA were impressed by the speed with which Pacific Seeds notified them of this possible contamination risk.

"Pacific Seeds is to be commended for notifying us so quickly of this issue, offering full access to all of their records and total co-operation in our investigations. They have done this in full knowledge of the fact that they could face legal action should it be proved that an offence has been committed under the provisions of the HSNO Act. Their offer to destroy all of the seeds in question without being instructed to also reflects well on their credibility."

Media contact:

Brett Sangster, MAF Director Corporate Communications

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