The latest seed contamination incident makes clear that MAF is not adequately risk managing border protection against GM contaminants.

There are low and no cost biosecurity options MAF could have adopted to significantly improve its chances of detecting seed contamination and avoiding very expensive cleanup bills. The Sustainability Council recommended two years ago that MAF Biosecurity:

  • Treble the quantity of seeds required for the test sample to raise the ability to detect low concentrations.
  • Strongly incentivise importers to use quality assurance procedures that track and screen seeds for GM content from origin to delivery. Rather than relying on a single border test sample, quality assurance procedures focus on mitigation of risk at each point in the supply chain.

MAF’s response to these suggestions then and in recent months has been to park them for review at some later date. Yet the costs of implementing these changes are tiny while the bill the Crown faces for cleanup of the latest incident is understood to be in the vicinity of $1 million. Such measures would have improved the odds of detecting GM content in the seeds currently at issue – even if the paperwork had not been correctly read at the border, as apparently occurred in this instance.

The Sustainability Council welcomes MAF’s statement yesterday that its “objective is to ensure New Zealand’s GM-Free status is maintained”.

We interpret its statement as meaning that MAF will remove any contaminated plants as soon as practicable, and give no further consideration to allowing these to continue growing and be harvested for export, as it earlier mooted was a possibility. That course of action would invite questions about how committed New Zealand is to zero tolerance when each of the markets for New Zealand sweetcorn demand a GM Free product. No level of GM contamination is acceptable for these buyers who seek out New Zealand producers because of this country’s GM Free reputation.

Any review of the causes of the latest incident need to go well beyond whether current procedures were adhered to and address the root issue of the adequacy of the risk management procedures.