Fiction or Fact

Genetic Modification (GM) Field Trials

Pollen drift from GM trees will occur and this is a serious risk.
There will be no pollen drift from GM trees grown in Scion’s field trial site because no reproductive material will be grown in the trial. The application excludes the release of any reproductive material (pollen or seed). Once a tree starts to develop male or female cones it will be cut down and destroyed by a scientifically validated method such as composting or incineration on the field trial site.
The risk that radiata pine in the trial will escape and establish outside the controlled site is extremely remote. New radiata pine trees cannot grow from roots, branches or needles without human intervention.

GM pollen has escaped from Scion’s previous trials.
Pollen is only released from male catkins in reproductively mature pine trees. No male catkins have ever developed on a GM tree in Scion’s previous trials, so any escape of GM pollen was not possible.

Pollen can spread up to 60 km, far more than the 300 m range suggested by Scion.
Pollen dispersal is by wind. Studies show that 90% or more pollen travels less than 300 m from its source. Small amounts of pollen may migrate large distances, but after a few days pine pollen can no longer germinate.

Scion has previously breached containment controls.
Scion has always complied with the controls set down by ERMA and has only been issued with one minor non-compliance. This was in relation to an operational matter that did not affect the environmental safety of the trial. It was the result of action taken by a third party contractor who acted outside the agreed control procedures. The contractor mowed over some of the tree prunings within the containment site while they were drying prior to incineration.

Rabbits entered the previous trial site and could have taken GM material out of containment.
Neither Scion nor MAF had ever found evidence to prove that there were rabbits travelling in and out of the field trial site. The presence of rabbits inside the trial site was not an issue of compliance in the previous trial.

Producing GM trees that are herbicide resistant will aggravate the overuse of herbicides in New Zealand.
Not so. Our research has the potential to decrease the use of herbicides in New Zealand. Herbicide resistant trees would allow the use of low-impact herbicide products to improve tree establishment at a lower cost and with lower pesticide volumes. Weed control at planting is currently the single most important operation in New Zealand forestry. Without it, new tree crops run the risk of complete failure.

GM trees are more risky than GM crops because of their longevity and strong position in ecosystems.
There is a wealth of scientific evidence that proves genetically modified trees are safe for the environment (Walter et al. 2010).

Scion will be using ‘terminator technology’.
We are not using terminator technology because we are not producing seed. Our research aims to better understand how genes behave during the development of reproductive structures in pine trees. Terminator technology is a very specific term for a technology that makes second generation seed infertile, which prevents farmers from getting seed from superior crops.

Maori consultation shows strong opposition to GM research.
Scion has been consulting with Mana Whenua for many years on research into GM pines. This has led to a strong relationship between Scion and Ngati Hurungaterangi who are fully supportive of our application. Scion will continue to develop partnerships with tangata whenua and increase Maori involvement in these research activities.

Scion has not published its research on environmental effects.
Incorrect. Scion and its collaborators have had a number of papers on GM research published in academic peer-reviewed journals.

GM trees will have a negative impact on New Zealand’s clean, green status and international reputation.
Scion’s GM research will provide ‘proof of concept’ evidence that will inform future decisions as to whether GM trees are desirable for New Zealand.
This research is conducted under one of the strictest regulatory environments in the world for GM research. (In addition to health, safety and environmental assessments, ERMA also considers ethical, economic, societal, Maori and community issues in its decision making.)
The New Zealand public can be confident that our regulatory environment ensures there is little, if any, risk to people or the environment from GM trials.

Scion’s partnership with ArborGen presents a new environmental threat to New Zealand.
ArborGen has been operating in New Zealand for many years, employing people locally (e.g. Kaikohe, Tokoroa, Gisborne, Te Teko). The company is aligned with and supports the forestry sector, and supplies trees to the majority of forest owners/operators in New Zealand.
ArborGen Australasia will be involved in the field trials as an industrial partner in a collaborative partnership with Scion’s work on molecular breeding and genetic modification for forest trees. Scion values ArborGen’s support into research that can explore opportunities for the New Zealand forestry sector to remain competitive.

Scion uses flawed scientific evidence.
Scion uses refereed research that has been assessed through globally peer review processes, and Scion submits its own research findings for the same rigorous assessment prior to publication.

There is no need for GE research when many other tree species have the beneficial traits sought and the millions of tons of tree waste already existing can be used for biofuel production.
Some 8-10% of the forest harvest is left over after log harvesting. While this does translate to millions of tonnes, and is a useful starting point, it is not the answer to the large-scale wood requirements for bioenergy options. Scion’s research findings will contribute to economic evaluations across the whole forestry estate.