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18 June 2010
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) has completed its
investigation into the discovery late last year of suspected genetically
Arabidopsis thaliana plants found growing just outside a containment
glasshouse on the Plant & Food Research Ltd site at Lincoln.
Acting Deputy Director General Infrastructure, Capability and Compliance,
Warwick Foran, said the investigation found no evidence of a failure to take
reasonable care or of negligence and was unable to determine a cause of any
escape. There are no grounds for prosecution under the Hazardous Substances and
New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996 or the Biosecurity Act 1993.
"MAF treats any breach of containment seriously. Accordingly, we have
conducted a robust and thorough investigation in this case.
"The investigation found that while there had been technical breaches of
conditions surrounding the operation of the containment glasshouse, these were
promptly remedied, and there were no grounds for prosecution."
Due to the complex nature of this investigation, we also sought Crown Law
advice on our decision."
"In this case, the immediate actions taken controlled the alleged breach and
prevented the likelihood of escape. No more suspected GM plants were found."
"MAF enforces the HSNO Act, treating any likely breach of containment as a
serious matter that requires full investigation. ERMA New Zealand approves and
sets the controls on the use of GMOs in containment under the HSNO Act. We will
work with ERMA New Zealand to determine whether any changes to approvals or
containment standards should be made in light of this investigation."
On 23 November 2009, Plant and Food Research Ltd notified MAF of a possible
breach of containment and that testing was underway on the plants found outside
the glasshouse to determine whether they were GM.
MAF launched its response, on the basis that it was suspected that GM
Arabidopsis had escaped the containment glasshouse and required immediate
action to maintain containment.
MAF ordered the removal of any Arabidopsis plants close to the
glasshouse, the spraying of herbicide around the site to prevent any other seeds
germinating, and the testing of plants from other parts of the site to determine
that no spread had occurred.
Footpaths were treated, the surroundings of the glasshouse gravelled and soil
treatments were used to mitigate the low risk that other seeds could germinate.
The interior of the glasshouse was sterilised and a review of site procedures
initiated. No further
Arabidopsis plants were found.
MAF subsequently launched an investigation into how suspected GM
Arabidopsis might have escaped containment.
Arabidopsis is a small common annual plant belonging to the Mustard
family. It is also a weed species widely used within plant science, both as a
research model and as a teaching aid. It is considered a low risk organism that
is commonly chosen as a research tool because it can not displace or affect the
viability of other plants or cross pollinate.
Photos available on request.
Helen Keyes, Communications Manager, 04 894 0161 or 029 894 0161