Scientist sacked over GE research breach

By Hana Garrett-Walker, Rebecca Quilliam

Pollen from genetically modified ryegrass could have escaped into New Zealand's environment because of the actions of a senior government scientist, the Green Party says.

Igor Kardailsky was dismissed from his job at AgResearch's Grasslands facility in Palmerston North in July because he allegedly allowed genetically modified ryegrass plants to flower and potentially release pollen without adequate protection.

The Crown research institute said his actions breached Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) regulations and could have caused a serious risk to biosecurity, the environment or public health.

Green Party GE spokesman Steffan Browning said he was very concerned that the GE ryegrass was allowed to flower.

"What I am unclear about at the moment is what level of containment the experiment was in and whether the experiment was legal in the full sense at all."

He said other AgResearch staff acted appropriately by stopping the plants from flowering, effectively ruining the "experiment."

MPI's director of verification services, Chris Kebbell, said while the ministry had identified non-compliance with the conditions of the research, no breach of containment was confirmed.

"A breach would mean viable genetic material escaping the facility and pollinating outside ryegrass."

Dr Kardailsky claimed he was unjustifiably dismissed and sought interim reinstatement while an inquiry was done by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

But ERA member Michele Ryan ruled that Dr Kardailsky would not be reinstated in the interim. A full ERA hearing is scheduled for December.


GM in New Zealand

* The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act regulates research into and release of all living things that do not already exist in New Zealand, including those that are genetically modified.

* Releasing a GM organism in NZ without approval is illegal.

* No GM crops are grown commercially.

* The main GM crops grown overseas are soybeans, canola, corn and cotton.

Source: Ministry for the Environment website

- APNZ

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