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6-Regulation: Aventis breached Australia's biosafety recommendations

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----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  GM crop trial 'breached rules'
SOURCE: The Sydney morning Herald, Australia, by Mark Metherell
DATE:   August 14, 2000

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GM crop trial 'breached rules'

The multinational genetic crop company Aventis breached Australian 
safety recommendations, raising the risk of uncontrolled seed 
dispersal from a genetically modified canola crop, a Federal 
regulator has found. Aventis has dismissed the breaches, involving a 
trial GM canola crop at Mt Gambier earlier this year, as "minor 
departures" from recommended practice. The company blamed 
"difficulties" in the incident on lack of clear and unambiguous 
regulatory arrangements. The head of the Federal Interim Office of 
the Gene Technology Regulator, Ms Elizabeth Cain, confirmed to the 
Herald last night that the regulator's investigation had found 
breaches involving Aventis trials in five States, including NSW.

The breaches include the company's failure to show it had met a 
requirement for a 15-metre buffer between conventional and GM canola 
and failure to demonstrate adequate monitoring for a weedy relative 
of canola. The investigation also found the company failed to comply 
with recommended practices on the monitoring of GM offspring plants, 
transport of GM seed and burial of trial crop residue. Ms Cain said 
that while the breaches were not high risk and could be managed, it 
was important for the public to be aware that the GM crop trial 
breaches were thoroughly investigated.

In a report to a Senate committee, the interim office revealed the 
findings of its three-month investigation of Aventis GM canola 
trials, touched off by reports in March of the discovery of GM canola 
seed dumped at a Mt Gambier tip. The report said the expert Genetic 
Manipulation Advisory Committee had advised that none of the breaches 
represented an increased risk to human health and safety because 
there was negligible risk of transfer of the gene to commercial 
canola crops. Even if transfer occurred, oil derived from the variety 
of transgenic canola was approved by the Australia New Zealand Food 
Authority for human consumption

But the committee advised that the breaches "may have resulted in an 
increased risk to the environment because non-compliance with the 
advisory committee's recommendations has increased the potential for 
out-crossing [cross pollination] of GM canola, including through 
uncontrolled seed dispersal". The interim regulator, which does not 
have coercive or penalty powers, is to be replaced by a powerful 
independent agency under legislation before the Parliament. It 
acknowledged in the report that there was disagreement with Aventis 
over two of the breaches, based on disagreement with the advisory 
committee's original recommendations on the trials.

But Aventis says in its submission to the Senate committee inquiring 
into the new legislation and the Mt Gambier incident that the 
advisory committee "has been aware over a long period of many of the 
so-called 'breaches' and took no action until the public and media 
allegations were made". The company said "in any case, Aventis 
considers many of what are called 'breaches' to represent little more 
than differences of opinion between our experts and [the advisory 
committee's]. It is urgent that there be a mechanism for the 
resolution of such differences." Aventis invited the Senate committee 
secretariat, or a consultant to it, to examine all aspects of this 
matter, subject only to commercial confidentiality in reporting what 
it found. 


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