Scion’s Field Trial Deliberately Destroyed

13 April 2012

A field trial of genetically modified radiata pine trees planted in a secure site at Scion’s Rotorua campus was deliberately destroyed during the long Easter weekend.

Scion Chief Executive Dr Warren Parker describes this as a blatant act of vandalism designed to end Scion’s genetic modification research programme.

“The field trial was approved under one of the strictest regulatory regimes in the world, and our team has fully complied with the containment controls. Despite this, our research opponents were determined to stop us and used criminal means to do so”, he says.

The field trial site contained 375 radiata pines trees planted last year following approval from ERMA (now the Environmental Protection Authority). Set inside Scion’s perimeter fence, the 1-hectare field trial site was secured by a double fence, one of which was electrified and monitored. The offenders cut through the perimeter fence elsewhere on the campus, then dug under the security fencing and attacked the trees by cutting them at root level and pulling them out of the ground.

Most of the trees were less than 1 metre high, and were part of two experiments due to run for 2-3 years: one was testing herbicide resistance and the other was looking at reproductive development. Not all the trees were genetically modified as the experiments included some control trees. The direct value of the destroyed material is around $400,000.

All risk management safety protocols were immediately implemented when the attack was discovered. The site has been inspected by the Police and all fences have been repaired. Scion is confident that no heritable material has left the site.

“As a Crown Research Institute, Scion has a responsibility to pursue areas of science and technology that offer opportunities for the forestry sector in New Zealand, including gene technologies. While this is a big blow to us and has set back our work some 12 months, we will not be deterred in carrying out our lawful research”, says Dr Parker.

Genetic modification is one of many biotechnology tools that Scion is developing to add value to forestry. Scion began its genetic modification research in 1992 and has an excellent documented track record covering its field trial activity since then.

Gene technologies serve the forestry industry by developing trees that grow faster, have higher value products, require lower inputs (such as herbicides and insecticides) and can mitigate climate change. Scion is at the forefront internationally in applying these genetic modification techniques to radiata pine and other conifers.