MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) has evaluated non-compliance with controls at Plant & Food Research - the Lincoln-based crown research institute containment facility where genetically modified (GM) brassica plants had been growing as part of an approved field trial.
Although the MAFBNZ evaluation showed only immature seed pods formed during the duration of the trial, a precautionary approach has been adopted and a programme put in place to reduce any future risk.
MAFBNZ Principal Adviser Doug Lush says there is a very low risk that mature seed may have set within the field trial plot from the flowering, or near flowering of the genetically modified broccoli and kale.
He says the MAFBNZ investigation was wide ranging and included a thorough analysis of the possible range that any pollen or seed could have travelled. Disposal on site, composting and ploughing activities within the trial site were also considered.
“Non-compliance with MAFBNZ’s conditions was found to have occurred at least twice over the year the trial had been conducted,” Mr Lush says. “However, the likelihood of pollen or seed from the field trial being available on any scale or for any significant length of time was extremely low. Wind dispersal of brassica pollen is thought to extend only up to two metres, so wind did not present a significant means of spread. MAFBNZ also considered whether bees could have carried pollen further afield, but analysis of both hive locations and bee behaviour, relative to the scant flowering activity at the site, made this extremely unlikely. The risk posed by other pollinating insects was considered and assessed as very low.”
Mr Lush says all these factors make the risk that genetically modified heritable material has escaped beyond the trial site negligible.
He says MAFBNZ understands the concerns of neighbouring landholders and interested stakeholder groups, and has conducted surveillance for brassica plants to a radius of 100m from the trial plot. No Brassica oleracea plants, capable of forming seed during the risk time period, were found.
“To mitigate the remote possibility that seed might remain in soil at the trial site, we are putting in place a programme of surveillance, herbicide application and cultivation.
This programme will be aligned with Environmental Risk Management Authorities (ERMA) post-harvest monitoring conditions, which are integral to the original trial approval. The programme will continue for at least five years from now at Plant & Food Research’s cost,” Mr Lush says.
“Analysis of laboratory diaries, records, logs and photographs suggests a series of worrying lapses in the conduct of the Plant & Food Research trial. Consequently the audit regime MAFBNZ operates, on behalf of ERMA, for any future trials at Plant & Food Research, Lincoln will be significantly tightened.”