16/04/2008

“Restore Moratorium”: GE Failures Threaten National Interest

 

A Moratorium on applications to release GE organisms must be restored to protect the National interest.

That is the only reasonable course of action in light of a new report (1) by Sustainable Future: A Review of the forty nine recommendations of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (2008).

The study reveals major failures in the development of systems recommended by the Royal Commission on GE to protect New Zealand.

“Despite accepting the advice of the $6 million Royal Commission the ball has been dropped. The gaps in regulation and strategic planning now seriously threaten the economy, environment and community wellbeing of New Zealand,” says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ (in food and environment).

The independent audit of post-RCGM responses shows the failures include:
- Consumers are being left in the dark despite promises to set up a GE-free labeling regime to allow people to choose what they eat
- The strategic threat to conventional farming and exports remains
- The regulatory authority ERMA has no powers to ensure Research on negative effects of GE is ever carried out
- Lack of planning for GE-free zones and a national farm-management system, means New Zealand faces the threat of civil conflict as farmer fights farmers over liability for contamination and lost exports
- Ethically-inappropriate uses of food-animals as cheap ‘bio-rectors’ for chemicals can continue despite being unacceptable to the wider community

Only the so-called “People’s Moratorium” - the outcome of massive public protests in the early 2000’s which lead to some 70% of New Zealanders demanding protection for a GE-free environment and food production, is currently in place in New Zealand.

To calm public unrest the government said it accepted most of the Royal Commissions recommendations and would take action. But of the 49 recommendations that the RCGM put forward only 20 have been “Fully implemented”, with 12 “partially” and 17 “not” implemented.

“The Governments "pick and choose" approach to the RCGM recommendations have significant damaging impact on the intention of the RCGM to “proceed with caution” that protect the New Zealand people and commons,” says Claire Bleakley.

Serious failures in the official response to the RCGM has also left it to voluntary and public-interest community groups like GE Free NZ (in food and environment) to act as watchdogs and raise the alarm.

Recent High Court action (2) undertaken against ERMA directly relates to The Royal Commission call for research on the environmental impacts on soil ecosystems to be required by ERMA (6.12).

“The tragedy is that we have seen such groups as MADGE – acting in the public interest in court– being crushed by vested interests at the same time as officials are failing to do what they should,” says Jon Carapiet.

“The serious gaps in response to the Royal Commission are a recipe for disaster and warrant the reinstatement of the Moratorium immediately.”
ENDS
Jon Carapiet – 0210 507681
Claire Bleakley – (06) 3089842 027 348 6731

References:
(1) McGuinness W., Versteeg S., and White M., (2008) Review of the forty nine recommendations of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. Sustainable Future.

The thorough review covers the history of the RCGM and its recommendations seven years on.

The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (RCGM) was convened by Government in 2001 to assess a way forward for New Zealand in light of the rising safety concerns and resistance to the growing and eating of GM foods.

The 20 fully implemented recommendations include
· the ability to delegate assessment of low risk and development of GMO’s to Institutional Biological Safety Committees (IBSC) (6.1, 6.3, 6.4, 6.7, 6.10),
· that an approval to develop and import allows for the holding and breeding of the genetically modified organisms (GMO) (6.5),
· the new category of conditional release, that MoRST develop a long term biotechnology strategy for New Zealand (14.4).

Of the RCGM 17 non implemented recommendations
· They sought to ensure the right to choice by preserving GMO Free food and land and organic methods of farming (7.7).
· They recommended a labelling regime for GM food and seed (7.2).
· That Non-food animals or animal less likely to find their way into the food chain be used as bioreactors (7.5),
· They sought to allow communities to establish GMO Free zones (13.1)
· They recommended that an Office of Parliamentary Commissioner on Biotechnology be set up to oversee, educate on the way forward for biotechnology (14.3).

Finally they recommended that research on the environmental impacts on soil ecosystems be required by ERMA (6.12). This directly relates to the reasons for High-Court legal action taken by GE-free NZ and others, challenging ERMA’s approval of GE brassica trials.

2) GM Brassica High Court case two day hearing on 31st March. www.gefree.org.nz

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