BUSINESS & POLICY: CSIRO rejects to process freedom of information request on GE wheat trials
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TITLE: DETAILS OF CSIRO MODIFIED WHEAT TRIAL TO STAY SECRET
SOURCE: The Canberra Times, Australia
AUTHOR: Bianca Hall
SUMMARY: "Greenpeace [...] lodged a bid with the CSIRO for all documents relating to nutritional testing the science body had conducted, or intended to conduct, on pigs, rats or humans on foods produced by genetically modified organisms. Last week, the CSIRO?s freedom of information officer rejected the bid, saying she had identified 1042 documents relating to the request. The officer estimated it would take one person 539 hours to process them, which was an ?unreasonable? diversion of resources and not in the public interest."
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DETAILS OF CSIRO MODIFIED WHEAT TRIAL TO STAY SECRET
Australia?s peak science body has refused to issue details about its plans to conduct human trials of genetically modified wheat in the ACT.
The territory is home to a 1ha crop of genetically modified wheat planted and maintained under a CSIRO project backed by multinational GM industry groups.
In 2009, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator approved the CSIRO?s bid to plant three lines of wheat, which have been genetically modified to alter their grain starch composition, on a limited scale and under controlled conditions.
According to the project?s timelines, issued in 2009, the CSIRO will this year conduct human trials of the GM wheat grown in the ACT, after first testing it on rats and pigs.
Greenpeace says if the research is successful, genetically modified bread could be on supermarket shelves by 2015.
In May, it lodged a bid with the CSIRO for all documents relating to nutritional testing the science body had conducted, or intended to conduct, on pigs, rats or humans on foods produced by genetically modified organisms.
Last week, the CSIRO?s freedom of information officer rejected the bid, saying she had identified 1042 documents relating to the request.
The officer estimated it would take one person 539 hours to process them, which was an ?unreasonable? diversion of resources and not in the public interest.
She suggested Greenpeace remove from its request ?documents that related to a project CSIRO was undertaking on a commercial footing?.
Greenpeace wrote back to the agency saying, ?the risks associated with commercial trialling of genetically modified wheat, and the subsequent world-first nutritional testing of GM wheat on human subjects, are of paramount public interest, and have potentially serious consequences for public health?.
This Thursday, Greenpeace will issue a report detailing a scathing assessment of the trial program, and labelling the partnership between the CSIRO and international GM companies ?clear potential conflict of interest?.
Greenpeace says this year?s trials were proposed and approved while two Nufarm directors were serving on the board of the CSIRO.
?Nufarm is the exclusive distributor of Monsanto?s pesticides and GM crops in Australia ... [and] the CSIRO?s current GM wheat project was locked in during this time a clear potential conflict of issue,? the report says. CSIRO did not respond directly to the claims, but issued a statement defending the organisation?s partnerships with private enterprise.
?CSIRO is proud of its many partnerships with Australian and multinational companies in the area of grains research and the role the organisation plays in contributing to food security, sustainability and health,? the spokesman said.
?These partnerships will result in practical research outcomes being realised more quickly and more extensively.?
It also says it has no immediate plans to conduct human trials, and has only sought approval for future trials if and when they are needed.
The CSIRO spokesman said the GM research could have positive health impacts, combating ?lifestyle diseases? like Type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
He said it would also impact positively on farmers? productivity and could help secure food production challenges. ?Our No1 priority is that Australian industry and farmers realise the benefits of our grains research first and foremost,? he said. ?It should also be noted our GM research will have positive impacts in many developing regions of the world and this is also a key priority for CSIRO.?