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2-Plants: USDA report on GE maize contaminations in New Zealand



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TITLE:  New Zealand - Biotechnology - Crop Find - Update 2002
SOURCE: U.S. Department, Foreign Agricultural Service
        Global Agriculture Information Network, Report #NZ2036
DATE:   Oct 25, 2002

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New Zealand
Biotechnology
GM Crop Find
Update 2002

Approved by: David Rosenbloom U.S. Embassy
Prepared by: Sven Koops

Report Highlights: The New Zealand seed company Pacific Seeds reported to 
the Government in August that laboratory tests found genetically modified 
(GM) maize seeds in samples from two crops grown in New Zealand. Subsequent 
test results confirmed that the origin of the GM content in the maize was 
linked to the original parent seed lines imported from the United States. 
All GM material has been destroyed.

GM Status

New ZealandŐs Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) has not yet 
approved genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for commercial release into 
the environment. Applications for the release of GMOs into the New Zealand 
environment cannot be considered for approval by ERMA until the 
GovernmentŐs moratorium on the commercial release of GMOs expires on 
October 29, 2003..

New Zealand Discovery of Imported GM Seed

On August 7, 2002, the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 
(MAF), the Ministry for the Environment, and ERMA were informed by Pacific 
Seeds that maize grown in New Zealand had tested positive for genetic 
modification (GM). Pacific Seeds, the importer of the parent maize (corn) 
seed line, had inadvertently introduced a organism that was not approved by 
ERMA.

Pacific Seeds had produced maize crops in Gisborne and Pukekohe in the 
North Island from seeds imported from the U.S. Pacific Seeds had intended 
to sell the crops as planting seed both within New Zealand and to export 
markets outside of New Zealand. Pacific Seeds imported the parent seed from 
the Garst Company of the United States between April and September 2001. As 
part of Pacific SeedŐs quality control program, it sent a composite sample 
(approximately 1,400 seeds) from the imported shipment to GeneScan of 
Australia for testing. Test results were negative for GM content. Please 
note that ERMA only introduced a regulatory requirement to test imported 
maize seed for sowing for the presence of GM content on August 1, 2002. We 
also understand, that the U.S. maize seed was tested prior to shipment to 
New Zealand by Monsanto and no GM content was detected.

Pacific Seeds had the imported seeds planted for its seed multiplication 
program on approximately 12.3 hectares in Gisborne and on about 13.2 
hectares in Pukekohe. As before, this testing was done as part of Pacific 
SeedsŐ own quality control system. The parent lines were planted on 13 
fields, 11 (12.5 hectares) were planted with both parent lines to produce 
hybrid seed, the remaining 2 (0.7 hectare) were planted with one of the 
parent lines to produce inbred seed.

Approximately 33.5 tons of planting seed that was produced from the 
imported U.S. maize was stored in warehouses in Gisborne and Pukekohe by 
Pacific Seeds. Additionally, some quantity of the original shipment from 
the U.S. was still being held by Pacific Seeds. Some amount of crop grown 
in Gisborne along with husked cobs and other crop residue was shipped by 
Pacific Seeds to Edgecumbe in the North Island for utilization in the 
production of animal feed.

Pacific Seeds sent a representative sample (1,400 seeds) taken from the 
hybrid seed produced in Gisborne and Pukekohe to GeneScan in Australia for 
testing in late July 2002. Again, this represented Pacific Seeds own 
quality control measures. Test results received on August 6 by Pacific 
Seeds were positive for the 35S sequence indicating that GM content was 
present. Further testing by GeneScan at the request of Pacific Seeds showed 
a GM seed concentration presence of less than 0.05 percent (fewer than 1 in 
2000 seeds). The GM varieties detected included Bt176 and YieldGard.

GM Material Destroyed

After consulting with appropriate ministries, ERMA decided to secure all 
the seeds in question and have samples of the parent seed imported into New 
Zealand as well as the hybrid seeds produced in New Zealand retested. The 
fate of the seeds would be decided by ERMA after test results became 
available. Seed samples were sent to Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 
(MAF) accredited laboratories: Biogenetic Services in the U.S. and to 
GeneScan in Australia during the second half of August 2002. Before test 
results were available, however, Pacific Seeds took action. All planting 
seed produced from the imported parent material along with crop residue 
products were sent to Auckland where they were incinerated under MAF 
supervision. Government officials emphasize that the decision to destroy 
the produced crop was done by Pacific Seeds.

Since it was going to be some time before results from ERMAŐs-ordered tests 
would be available, MAF and ERMA together decided that it was necessary to 
proceed on the assumption that some GM plant material had in fact been 
produced in Gisborne and Pukekohe. ERMA further determined that regulatory 
measures were needed to ensure that potential volunteer plants subsequently 
emerging from the likely contaminated fields would be destroyed. MAF and 
ERMA instructed Pacific Seeds on August 30, to stubble mulch all fields. 
The fields were then plowed to incorporate the mulched material. Fields 
experiencing volunteer plant growth will be subject to herbicide spray.

Retest Results Confirm GM Presence

Based upon laboratory test results obtained, ERMA and other involved 
Government ministries concluded that: - conventional hybrid maize 
containing very small concentrations of GM varieties was grown in Gisborne 
and Pukekohe; and - it is very likely that the source of this seed was due 
to the presence of very small concentrations of GM seed in the imported 
parent lines; and - it is very unlikely that any GM seed in the hybrid 
maize was the result of cross-pollination from crops being cultivated in 
adjoining fields.

Based upon the test results and the areas cultivated, ERMA concluded that 
it was likely that as many as 319 GM-plants were grown in Gisborne and up 
to 463 plants were produced in Pukekohe. In sum, 782 GM-maize plants were 
produced in New ZealandŐs North Island from U.S. seeds which produced in 
total approximately1.8 million plants. ERMA further concluded that it was 
likely that GM seeds were not detected at the time of testing parent lines 
following importation because of the very low concentration levels of GM 
seed. Although testing methods are sensitive, the limit of reliable 
detection is around 0.01 percent.

MAF remarks that this incident highlights the problem that no matter what 
testing regime is applied to imported seeds, there is always a possibility 
that GM seeds will go undetected if they are present at a very small 
concentrations. New ZealandŐs current testing regime is designed to give a 
high level of confidence that GM seeds will be detected if they are present 
at concentrations of at least 0.01 percent. This is important for seeds 
that will be planted in New Zealand as well as seeds that are being 
certified as GM free for export sale as was the case with Pacific Seeds.

New GM Seed Testing Protocol for Zea mays (maize) Imports

The new testing protocol introduced on August 1, 2002 aims to prevent the 
unapproved release of genetically modified varieties and sub-species of Zea 
mays into the New Zealand environment through seed imported for sowing. The 
new protocol does not apply to corn imported for non-planting purposes. 
Under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO), 
unapproved organisms, including viable seeds, are new organisms and 
prohibited from importation, field-testing or release without approval from 
ERMA. To date, no GM organisms have been approved for release in New 
Zealand. No application to release GM organisms can be made before October 
29, 2003, which is the date that the GovernmentŐs existing moratorium on 
the release of GM organisms expires.

The protocol requires that every consignment must be tested for the 
presence of unapproved GM seeds. Importers can either sample and test the 
consignment at the border or provide certification that all seed lines/
varieties in the consignment have been tested. If requested, MAF will 
consider the option of area freedom from commercial GM production on a crop/
country basis. MAF will grant area freedom conditionality if the country 
can demonstrate that it has sufficient systems in place to provide a level 
of assurance equivalent to testing every consignment.

Currently there are no international standards or agreed methods for 
assessing area of freedom from commercial GM production so to some extent 
MAF will have to make judgements based on available information. MAF will 
develop its own New Zealand standard but it will not be in place before the 
2003 import season. Until then, MAF will consider evidence from appropriate 
regulatory authorities on a case-by-case basis and may grant interim area 
freedom status. Until a standard is developed, it is not possible for MAF 
to specify the exact criteria. MAF has indicated that would need to be 
presented evidence of the following before granting area freedom status 
from commercial GM production:

- A robust regulatory system for approving the environmental release of GM 
crops; - No approval for commercial release of GM varieties of the crop in 
question; - Sufficient control over any GM field trials of the crop in 
question to prevent cross-pollination or mixing with seed produced for 
sowing and export to New Zealand; - Appropriate systems in place at the 
border to confirm the source and identity of imported seeds and to allow 
the detection of illegal imports of unapproved GM seeds; - No reliable 
evidence that unapproved GM varieties of the crop have been grown.

However, importers of small quantities, i.e. less than 5 kilograms per 
line, of seed for cultivar trials and/or multiplication will have three 
further or modified options:

- Test samples can be collected by either taking some seed from a number of 
randomly selected small packets of seed, or by taking a random selection of 
whole packets of seeds. - Untested seed may be imported into, and grown in 
a quarantine facility. During growth and before pollen is produced, MAF 
will test leaf disc samples for GM material. - Untested seed may be 
imported into, and grown in an appropriate quarantine facility registered 
and operated according to a MAF Biosecurity Authority Standard. The 
importer must sign a declaration that the seeds have been produced under a 
quality assurance system to avoid contamination by GM seeds and are not 
known to contain GM seeds. The plants will not be tested and will not 
receive biosecurity clearance. Once the trial is complete, all harvested 
seeds must be exported out of New Zealand and the remaining vegetative 
material destroyed, including any emerging volunteer plants.

Testing Status for Imports of U.S. Planting Seed

Whether the new testing protocol will affect U.S. exports of seeds into New 
Zealand is unclear given that the protocol has been in place only 2 months. 
However, the testing regime will require every consignment of maize seed 
imported from the United States to be tested for GM content since the 
United States does not qualify for area of freedom status under MAFŐs 
criteria for this crop. 

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