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Friday 28 May 2004
MAF originally identified 1,317 bags of maize seed which contained 0.05
percent GM presence, or less than 1 GM seed in 2000 non-GM seeds. Since our
initial investigations we can confirm that 357 of the 1,317 bags of maize seed
containing this very low GM presence were sold and nearly all planted. MAF has
been able to trace all but one of these bags to Northland, Bay of Plenty,
Waikato, Gisborne and Hawke's Bay regions. Several unplanted bags have since
been seized and the seeds will either be destroyed or re-exported.
Yes, some of the planted maize has been harvested and made into silage. The
silaging process destroys any seeds or viable plant material, meaning that corn
plants do not grow out of the silage. This fact, mixed with the very low
concentration of GM maize seed, means that there is little possibility of any GM
maize surviving in the environment from this route.
Some of the maize is being grown to produce grain for animal feed and has not
yet been harvested.
MAF's job under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 is to
minimise any chance of GM maize surviving in the environment. While this risk is
low because of the very small level of GM seed present in the maize, MAF has to
assure itself that it is enforcing New Zealand's zero tolerance law for
unapproved GM organisms.
MAF has determined that the most effective way to achieve this is to allow
the normal harvesting and processing to occur with some additional conditions.
This process will remove the maize seed from the property and "de-vitalise" any
seed, which means the seed cannot germinate in the future.
MAF will follow-up with growers to ensure the conditions are implemented.
De-vitalisation removes the ability of the seed to germinate and form a
plant. There are a number of methods commonly used by the grain industry to
process maize seed so that it is de-vitalised: acid treatment and milling are
the most frequent. The process of making silage also prevents seed vitality.
Maize seed (i.e. the kernels off the cobs) that is harvested for animal feed
is milled and made into grain. The milling process involves drying and cracking
the seed, which devitalises it.
The risk of any GM plants surviving is virtually nil, because maize plants
are dead when harvested, the nature of the harvesting process and the very low
concentration of GM seed present.
When maize is harvested in the field, the kernels are stripped from the cobs.
Any stray kernels that may be spilled into the fields are eaten by birds and
attacked by fungi and other soil micro-organisms. Low soil temperatures at this
time of year will prevent these kernels from germinating. .
MAF will include additional controls in the harvest process to minimise the
probability of the formation of a self-sustaining population of GM Zea mays.
Protocols covering these controls will be written and distributed to growers.
MAF will also perform follow-up visits to a selection of sites as part of
validating its analysis.
The harvested grain will be transported by truck to a processing site. The
maize is first dried down to about 14 per cent moisture and then processed. At a
minimum, the milling process splits the kernel and renders it non-viable. The
maize may be coarsely or finely milled, depending on its intended use.
The maize will then be stored in secure, segregated storage to prevent it
mixing with other grain. An additional cleaning protocol for processing sites
will be required to minimise mixing.
Growers are able to sell harvested material for animal feed as long as there
is no viable GM seed that could grow in the environment. Therefore, once this
seed has been processed to non-viability, MAF believes that the material can be
offered for sale by merchants as stock feed.
Food for human consumption must be labelled if the GM content of the food is
approved and is more than 1 per cent. Even so, MAF understands that this maize
was not grown for human consumption and it is very unlikely that it has been or
will be directly consumed by humans.
This seed will be destroyed or re-exported.
The chance of GM maize cross-pollinating with non-GM maize is very low
because of the very low number of GM plants.
In the larger consignment, the precise variety identified is Liberty Link
T25, which is a variety of GM maize approved by Food Standards Australia New
Zealand (FSANZ) for human consumption in New Zealand. Testing indicates presence
is at less than 0.05 per cent. This translates to less than 1 seed in 2,000 or
50 plants out of every 100,000.
There is no evidence of a risk to human health or the environment. The
variety of GM maize detected in the large seed lot is widely grown in the United
States and Canada. It is approved for human consumption in many countries,
including New Zealand, although no one has ever applied to the Environmental
Risk Management Authority to grow it here. Furthermore, it is present in low
levels – fewer than 50 plants out of every 100,000.
The question of compensation is currently being worked through by MAF, the
grain industry and Treasury. Until this analysis is complete, no determination
on compensation is possible.
The New Zealand GM testing regime is one of the strictest in the world.
MAF requires proof of testing for GM before seed can be cleared at the border
for entry into New Zealand, and if there is any indication of GM content the
seed is not allowed in. A consignment that has been tested offshore in a MAF-accredited
laboratory, according to the method in our import protocol, will not be tested
again unless there are genuine grounds to suspect that GM seeds are present.
This means that seed from non-GM as well as GM producing countries are required
to be certified GM-negative before it is allowed into the country.
In 2002, the sample sizes for testing for inadvertent GM content were
increased from 1,400 to 3,200 seeds. This means that the current testing process
gives MAF a high level of confidence (95 percent) that any consignment with a
level of GM presence greater than one seed in a thousand will be detected.
With more and more GM crops being grown and traded around the world, there
will be more opportunities for GM seeds to be present in seed supplies. On the
other hand, the systems to separate GM and non-GM crops are likely to improve,
driven both by commercial pressures and demands from governments for assurances.
It is very likely that there will continue to be incidents like this one,
where GM seeds are present unintentionally at concentrations near the limit of
detection. However, with appropriate actions and ongoing assurance systems, it
should be possible to keep these incidents to a minimum.
New Zealand farmers use both locally produced and imported seeds. For pasture
seeds such as ryegrasses and clovers, we are world-leaders – breeding and
producing our own seeds and exporting about $60-70 million worth of them around
There are other reasons as well: some crops lose their vigour after several
generations so new varieties must be imported from time to time, and many of the
best seeds are hybrids that do not breed true – the next generation is unlikely
to have the qualities that make the variety desirable.
New Zealand farmers realise that to be internationally competitive, it is
essential that they can participate in the seed breeding and multiplication
industry, which must import seeds.
For further information about MAF protocols visit: