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2-Plants: GE pine tree trial abandoned in New Zealand

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TITLE:  Forestry group abandons GM trial
SOURCE: New Zealand Herald, by James Gardiner and Anne Beston
DATE:   November 24, 2001

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Forestry group abandons GM trial

One of four field trials approved for genetically modified pine trees and 
sheep has been abandoned by Carter Holt Harvey because the forestry giant 
does not want to be at the centre of a "political storm". Proposed new 
rules for GM experiments are to go before the cabinet on Monday and may be 
introduced to Parliament as an amendment bill next week. Maori opposition 
to GM will be dealt with next year in a second amendment. The new rules 
should not have affected Carter Holt Harvey's pine tree field trial because 
it had an existing approval under conditions set years ago. But it has 
pulled out anyway citing consumer resistance to the process.

The Royal Commission on GM, which reported this year, said it was essential 
that all material associated with field trials - any "heritable material" - 
be removable from a site. The Weekend Herald has been told by several 
official and non-Government sources that those working on the amendment to 
the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 have left the reference 
to "heritable material" undefined.

GM proponent the Life Sciences Network said that would mean the issue had 
to be decided by the courts, which would be costly for any applicant whose 
approval was challenged. Network spokesman Francis Wevers said yesterday 
the term should be defined officially either in the law or elsewhere. "The 
Government had always hoped this piece of legislation would be simple and 
uncontroversial," Mr Wevers said. "The fact that it's taken several weeks 
of intense political negotiations following the completion of the work by 
the officials suggests it's not going to be."

Carter Holt Harvey environmental manager Murray Parrish said the trial the 
company had planned to take from the lab into the field had no commercial 
application, but would have helped test the success of scientific work done 
so far. "We support the technology in principle and can see a range of 
opportunities, environmentally and commercially, but if consumers don't 
want it for whatever reason we would be pretty silly to produce it," he 
said. Mr Parrish said CHH supported the Government's "proceed with caution" 
approach to GM and saw a need for appropriate controls on research. But it 
did not want to compromise its commercial viability or community standing.

Meanwhile, a big question mark is emerging over whether field trials will 
able to proceed because of fierce scientific and political debate over the 
degree to which soil in which trees or other crops are planted becomes part 
of any experiment. The other trials approved by the Environmental Risk 
Management Authority but yet to start are two more involving pine trees 
that the Forest Research Institute wants to do at Rotorua and one involving 
sheep that AgResearch plans for the Waikato. Both abided by the voluntary 
moratorium the Government called for while the commission sat. It lifted 
the moratorium last month when it announced its response to the 
commission's recommendations.

At that time, Forest Research scientist Dr Chris Walter was confident of 
having GM trees in the ground by Christmas, but yesterday he said the issue 
of how to secure the seedlings from vandals or protesters was troubling. He 
described as "absurd" the suggestion that soil could be considered 
heritable material and therefore need removing after any trial. He 
interpreted heritable to mean the soil or organisms in it could produce a 
new tree.

Pat Clark, a consultant to GE Free Northland, disagreed. "There is plenty 
of evidence to suggest that DNA, which of course is heritable material, can 
survive [as the root material decomposes] and can exert a transgenic effect 
itself even in the soil environment," he said. The AgResearch trial may 
also not go ahead, but for a different reason. Dr Paul Atkinson said the 
field trial to produce sheep with "bigger backsides" and therefore more 
meat was not ready to progress beyond the laboratory and he did not know 
when it would be.


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