Review of GM plant containment breach nears completion

15 December 2009

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) has ordered Plant and Food Research Ltd to take a number of actions as part of its review into a report of genetically modified Arabidopsis thaliana plants being found growing just outside a containment glasshouse on the Plant & Food Research site at Lincoln.

A Compliance Order has been issued under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996. The order, issued on 8 December, requires the company to:

  • test the remaining plant samples collected earlier for the presence of genetic modification;
  • treat the soil in risk areas, either through removal and deep burial, or sterilisation on site (e.g. with steam); and
  • treat hard surfaces in risk areas (e.g. footpaths and concrete edges) to kill any remaining plants and seeds.

These actions are to be completed by 21 December 2009, and MAFBNZ intends to make a final inspection on 20 January 2010.

Plant & Food Research Ltd has nearly completed the removal of the soil for disposal by deep burial.

The actions have been ordered as part of a review following the report of the suspected breach. MAFBNZ was advised by Plant and Food Research Ltd on Wednesday 25 November 2009 that two genetically modified Arabidopsis thaliana plants were found growing just outside a containment glasshouse. This plant is a small, widespread weed species commonly widely used within plant science, both as a research tool and as a teaching aid.

After finding the two suspect plants, Plant and Food Research Ltd collected all visible Arabidopsis thaliana plants close to the glasshouse, sprayed herbicide around the site to prevent any additional seeds germinating, and tested plants from other parts of the site to determine the extent of the breach. No further genetically modified plants have been found.

MAFBNZ Director Post Border Peter Thomson said Plant & Food Research Ltd had also been issued with a Critical Situation Report (Wednesday 9 December 2009) which required the interior of the glasshouse to be sterilised and a review of Plant & Food Research Ltd procedures at the site.

"MAFBNZ is still considering whether there are grounds for a prosecution."

He said Plant & Food Research Ltd is cooperating well with MAF - "they initiated the first sample collection and testing which had enabled investigations to be completed quickly."

The full review into the situation is expected to be completed in early 2010.

Media contact:

Helen Keyes
Communications Manager
04 894 0161 or 029 894 0161

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