By PHILIPPA STEVENSON agricultural editor
Legal action is looming over the publication of a book on the precedent-setting court case that discredited the liquid fertiliser Maxicrop.
Former Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries scientist Bert Quin is suing his one-time Ruakura Research Centre subordinate Doug Edmeades - the researcher at the centre of the Maxicrop case - over passages in his book, Science Friction, on the 1987 trial and its aftermath.
Maxicrop was used widely in the 1980s.
As well as documenting the Maxicrop case, Dr Edmeades wrote of his doubts about another fertiliser, reactive phosphate rock, a product imported and sold by Dr Quin and his company, originally known as Quinphos.
In a statement of claim filed in the High Court at Hamilton, Dr Quin has alleged his personal and professional reputation, and the professional reputation of his company, Summit-Quinphos, have been greatly injured by references in the book, launched last June at Mystery Creek's National Agricultural Fieldays.
Dr Quin, who was unavailable for comment, is seeking unspecified damages and costs.
Summit-Quinphos is partly owned by BOP Fertiliser.
In the High Court claim, lodged in January, Dr Quin said the book implied that Dr Edmeades regarded Dr Quin's business activities and, in particular, his business and scientific ethics, to be akin to those adopted by the discredited manufacturers of Maxicrop.
Dr Edmeades, who quit as head of AgResearch Ruakura's soils and fertiliser group in 1996 and now runs a fertiliser information service, said the allegations were baseless.
The 1987 court case was, above all, about the right to freedom of speech. His book exercised that right and would be vigorously defended.
"The boundary between scientific fact and commercial expediency is under daily threat in our 'commercialise everything' society. It needs clarifying and it needs protecting. I am willing to commit myself to this end."
Dr Edmeades said he strongly believed that the principle of scientists being able to speak out, which was at the centre of the Maxicrop case, was more important than ever.
"It is inevitable that science will increasingly clash with commercial interests over the next 20 years with issues [arising] like organic farming, global warming, genetic engineering and food safety. Resolving these issues could be even more difficult, given that, in New Zealand, the reforms over the past 15 years have commercialised science."
The 1987 court case, which cost millions of dollars and at 135 days is one of New Zealand's longest-running cases, arose when Maxicrop's manufacturer unsuccessfully sued MAF and Television New Zealand for $11.5 million over claims made on Fair Go.
During the 1980s Maxicrop was promoted widely to farmers and home gardeners as an effective fertiliser. Dr Edmeades' analysis of trial work showed that it did not work, but after he said this on Fair Go, the product's distributors, the Bell Booth Group, mounted the legal challenge. The High Court found that Dr Edmeades' statements were true and that Maxicrop did not work.
After the case, the Bell Booth Group went into liquidation, but one of its principals later established a new company. A product called Maxicrop is again being marketed.