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"Corngate" was a political scandal which took place in New Zealand in 2002 and involved the suspected release of genetically modified corn seed in 2000. The possibility of the presence of a small percentage of GE corn in a seed shipment from the U.S. was raised publicly by Nicky Hager in his book Seeds of Distrust.[1] The percentage was found well after sowing to be above "allowable limits" of contamination - the allowable limit being zero as the question of the accidental presence of GE content or the unreliability of low level testing had not been considered. The results showing GE contamination were later seen as being a PCR artifact, likely being due to contamination of the samples rather than the corn.

It became politically important due to the New Zealand Green Party stance on genetically engineered crops. The ruling Labour Party policy regarding GE research was brought into the argument allowing Corngate to become an election issue as the book, Seeds of Distrust was released a few months prior to the 2002 Parliamentary elections.

A select committee, including members of the Green Party, was formed to investigate the matter. Green Party statements claim the committee was "obstructed" by Syngenta refusing to release test results.[2] The final report, released in late 2004, was inconclusive due to a lack of clear evidence, poor reporting in the original incident and the deletion of raw data critical for a full re-evaluation. Scientific assessment highlighted a lack of rigor in the testing procedures at that time and noted failures in the administration and interpretation of the results by the regulatory body, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA).

The incident also highlighted the problems of testing for the presence of GMOs down to a regulatory level of zero when all available detection methods have a relatively high base threshold before results become unreliable.

The scandal was further intensified when news anchor John Campbell interviewed Prime Minister Helen Clark about the issue.[3] It ended with Clark labelling Campbell a "sanctimonious little creep" due to what she considered the ambush style of the interview.[4] The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) later ruled that the infamous "Corngate" interview was unbalanced, unfair and lacked impartiality and objectivity.[5]

Corngate is one of many scandals suffixed with "-gate", ultimately originating from the Watergate scandal in U.S. politics.


  1. ^ Hager, Nicky (2002). Seeds of Distrust. Nelson, N.Z.: Craig Potton Publishing. ISBN 0-908802-92-7. 
  2. ^ "Notes on the select committee's "Corngate" report". 2007-10-19. Retrieved 2007-11-27. 
  3. ^ Campbell Live video interview with Prime Minister Helen Clark on GE
  4. ^ Vowles, Jack (2004). Voters' Veto: The 2002 Election in New Zealand and the Consolidation of Minority Government. p. 36. ISBN 1-86940-309-6. 
  5. ^ "Authority Releases Decision On 3 News Special". Scoop: Politics, 4 July 2003. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Hager, Nicky. (2002). Seeds of distrust. Nelson, N.Z.: Craig Potton Publishing. pp. 156 p. : ill. ; 21 cm. Retrieved 2008-08-19.