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Group wants NZ closed to corn imports

Published on 4 December, 2006, Last updated at 12:19 GMT


NEW ZEALAND - An organic growers group has called for the closing of New Zealand's borders to imported corn and maize seed until it is confirmed no genetic contamination is occurring.

On Friday, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) said it was investigating how 1800kg of genetically engineered-tainted sweetcorn seed had been let into New Zealand.

New Zealand law sets an alleged "zero tolerance" for imports of unapproved GE seed. The seed, which came from the United States, had certificates claiming it was GE-free.

The Health and Soil Association, an umbrella group for organic farmers, said today it wanted compensation for farmers who had already planted corn for summer.

"Green New Zealand farmers deserve better protection by Biosecurity NZ, and those affected by dirty seed need fast assurance of fair compensation," association spokesman Steffan Browning said.

"We want food and crops that our consumers and markets appreciate, not dirty low value commodities", he said.

A spokesman said on Friday that MAF was investigating its border clearance procedures "to better understand what happened in this case" and to prevent future occurrences.

The department was checking to see where the seeds were sent and how many had been planted for this summer, he said.

But the Health and Soil Association wanted better security to protect seed stock.

"It is increasingly frustrating and disturbing having repeated border incursions of dirty seed," Mr Browning said.

"The wider community needs assurance that the contaminated seed and young plants will be destroyed."

In 2004, nearly 4000 tonnes of corn grown in Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Waikato and Northland was found to have traces of GE material.

Then, in 2005, farmers expressed frustration when a big maize consignment was found to be contaminated by GE material - endangering export markets - and proposals were made for as much as 13,500 tonnes of maize to be dumped.

Another inadvertent import of GE seed sparked the "Corngate" political row during the 2002 election campaign.


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