16 March 2011


GE Free Northland shares the concerns expressed by many New Zealanders about ERMA’s recent approval of Scion’s GE pine application for 4,000 GE pines, at secret sites at the Scion Rotorua property.

The Scion application contains information that is misleading and inaccurate. Implementation of this field trial would expose the country's economy and environment to serious risks.

Previous GE field trials by NZ Crown Research Institutes have been found to be in breach of the conditions of approval by ERMA. Given that Scion (despite public opposition) has used public funding for this risky GE experiment, it is even more important to know where GE trials are being conducted, to keep the inspectors and trial operators honest.

"GE pine pollen travels long distances and cannot be constrained to one known site, but the public must at least know where this site is, in order for them to be informed of risks and to be able to keep an eye on the GE trees."

"How are 4,000 trees going to be monitored in safety when previously 70 GE trees could not be properly looked after by Scion?" asked Martin Robinson, spokesperson for GE Free NZ (Northland).

An example of misleading information from Scion is their claim that pine pollen only disperses for 300 metres. However, a number of recent scientific publications have reported viable pine pollen spreading up to 60 kilometres.

Research published last year showed that pine pollen travels up to 41 kms in as little as 3 hours in moderate winds. At higher wind speeds pollen can travel this distance in 45 minutes, reaching altitudes of 610 metres.

Pine pollen remains viable for at least 24 hours. If the field trial were allowed, high winds would facilitate the spread of GE pollen far and wide. Pollen-producing structures have previously been identified on badly managed GE tree seedlings at Scion’s Rotorua site, so this possibility cannot be ruled out.

In addition, the GE process itself will alter tree’s growth patterns in totally unforeseen ways that could allow for unexpected pollen release.

GE Free Northland questions why ERMA has not picked up these anomalies in the evaluation and review reports of Scion’s latest application and taken action to decline it.

The conflicts that plague ERMA are not new, but severely compromise the protective role they are supposed to play in looking after NZ’s biosecurity and the public good.

Northland Regional Council Chairman Craig Brown comments:

"As far as I'm concerned, this flies in the face of reason, especially given the inherent difficulty of containing the GE pine pollen.

Based on Scion’s past practices, inevitable human error or sloppiness, and the unpredictability of GE organisms, the risk of transgenic contamination is high and a compelling reason for ERMA to have declined the application.

In addition to environmental/ biosecurity concerns, this GE experiment is a direct threat to New Zealand forests certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). The FSC prohibits the use of all GMOs in FSC certified forests.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council made a submission to ERMA stressing serious concerns about this particular GE application by Scion, and noting the precautionary GE policy put forward by BOPRC in its draft Regional Policy Statement. This strong precautionary GE policy would apply to the controls and use of any GMOs in the Bay of Plenty.

Northland Conservation Board also made a submission to ERMA, which notes with concern the fact that ERMA consistently has chosen to use its wide discretion under the HSNO Act regarding the precautionary approach, failing to take a precautionary approach to GE applications made to date.

Ongoing problems with and further deterioration of the performance of central government agencies including ERMA, MAF and NZ CRI’s is of huge concern to me.

Recent incidents involving GE experiments given by ERMA, have shown that the safeguards put in place are grossly inadequate. ERMA has not taken a precautionary approach to GMOs at all.

At this point, I have to say that I have little faith in the system, due to the poor track record of past ERMA decisions to allow GE experiments which resulted in biosecurity breaches and disturbing animal welfare issues, with large expenditure of public funds and no benefits whatsoever from the exercise."

-Northland Regional Council Chairman Craig Brown


More information: GE FREE NORTHLAND

Chairperson, Zelka Grammer 09 432 2155

Spokesperson, Martin Robinson 09 407 8650


Scion GE Trees Application ERMA200479: To field test in containment Pinus radiata with genetic modifications to alter plant growth/biomass acquisition, reproductive development, herbicide tolerance, biomass utilisation, wood density and wood dimensional stability.


Williams, C. G. (2010). Long-distance pine pollen still germinates after meso-scale dispersal.American Journal of Botany 97(5): 1-11. DOI: 10.3732/ajb.0900255

An up-to-date study undertaken in India established pollen drift over 600 kilometres:

Singh, G. et. al., "Pollen-Rain from Vegetation of Northwest India." New Physiologist, 72, 1993, pp. 191-206.


"Regional council warns of possible "irreversible consequences" if GMO moratorium lifted" (1 August 2003 Press Release, Environment Bay of Plenty Regional Council)

Regional Council seeks answered to "unresolved questions" on genetic modification Environment Bay of Plenty Press Release 20 February 2003


Part of that threat comes from the dangers of transgenic pollution from GE pine pollen, or horizontal gene transfer which could have unintended adverse impacts on the environment (including harm to NZ soils). Another risk is lowered productivity from toppling and snapping of pines that already are prone to that problem. GE pines could also cost a neighbouring forester or property owner their hard won Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. A prestigious global certification body, the FSC only endorses truly sustainable forestry practices, and its position on GE is very clear- "we do not allow genetic engineering of trees."

The FSC has identified a number of other legitimate scientific concerns about the safety and appropriateness of planting genetically engineered trees including asexual transfer of genes from GMO’s with antibiotic resistance to pathogenetic micro-organisms, increased resistance of target insect pests, reduced adaptability to environmental stresses, increased weediness or invasiveness in GMO trees with new features, and the spread of herbicide resistance genes. These hazards, and the uncertainties about them, are the reason for the prohibition of the use of GMO's in certified forests, stated in the FSC Principles and Criteria.

Quotes from world renowned geneticist Dr. David Suzuki on the risks of GE trees:

"We have no control over the movement of insects, birds and mammals, wind and rain that carry pollen and seeds. Genetically engineered trees, with the potential to transfer pollen for hundreds of miles carrying genes for traits including insect resistance, herbicide resistance, sterility and reduced lignin, thus have the potential to wreak ecological havoc throughout the world's native forests."

"GE trees could also impact wildlife as well as rural and indigenous communities that depend on intact forests for their food, shelter, water, livelihood and cultural practices. "As a geneticist, I believe there are far too many unknowns and unanswered questions to be growing genetically engineered plants - food crops or trees - in open fields. GE trees should not be released into the environment in commercial plantations and any outdoor test plots or existing plantations should be removed."

-Dr. David Suzuki, The Suzuki Foundation

see also

for references