There are serious concerns of a conflict of interest emerging in the Government's push for agricultural innovation using recombinant biotechnology, especially in the context of protecting New Zealand's Brand image.
The conflict has been further heightened by the appointment of Dr William Rolleston of the Life Sciences Network as vice president of Federated Farmers. The move could create a new level of conflict because of conflicting agendas. On the one hand protecting New Zealand's brand reputation from GE contamination is of benefit to all farmers and exporters. However the new vice-president "lobbying role" will have a bias towards Genetic Engineering in the agricultural and pharming sectors where he already has significant investments.
"Federated Farmers is now being part-led by someone who has a real conflict of interest between Dr Rolleston's own commercial investment in GE, and the fact that the national interest is best served by research into non-GE biotechnology, MAB (Marker Assisted Breeding), organic and ethical production," says Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE Free NZ in food and environment.
"This is the wrong direction for New Zealand. GE outside the lab increases the risk of environmental contamination and increased suffering from extreme animal experimentation. Federated Farmers may have set the cat amongst the pigeons: or rather the fox has been placed in the hen-house."
Dr Rolleston already heads up an organisation: the new Ministry of Science and Innovation, which is meant to ensure that New Zealand businesses are innovative, internationally competitive and contribute to economic growth. New Zealand's Brand Image is central to this. However Dr Rolleston has been a leading advocate of The Life Science Network (LSN) that believes in aggressive commercialisation of GE, and enforced thresholds of 'acceptable GE contamination' in crops. The LSN organisation also opposes holding users of GE organisms liable for the damage they cause.
"This agenda is not in the interests of New Zealand farmers given the global rejection of GE foods by consumers in our most important markets," says Jon Carapiet.
“The appointment of Dr. Rolleston signals the move to embed genetic engineering into New Zealand. This raises major ethical questions around conflict of interest and revolving door politics," says Claire Bleakley, from GE Free New Zealand.
"GE is a failing technology and it looks as if New Zealand is being pressured by major trading countries to accept the technology. It is vital to protect the economic benefits of New Zealand's reputation for GE-free, natural, organic and sustainable production. The appointment of Dr Rolleston to multiple and conflicting roles is a risk to New Zealand's future, especially in the light of the US discussions aimed at removing genetic engineering obstacles so that free trade deals can proceed."
Overseas the use of GE organisms in farming is waning as crops have increased weed resistance, and animals fed on GE foods experience health effects including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty hormonal regulation, and changes in the gastrointestinal system.
Consumer resistance is rising as more information comes to light on the risks of GE food production technology.
“The fact is GE technology cannot co exist without polluting other farming systems and reliance on GE for economic growth will become another idealistic myth. Federated Farmers must not allow their new vice-president to lead them down a path to accepting GE contamination . This can only come at the cost of our national Brand. It would be economic sabotage to sacrifice the future benefits of providing clean, green, GE-free foods to the world,” says Claire Bleakley.
Jon Carapiet 0210507681
Claire Bleakley 06 3089842 / 027 348 6731
Key lobby role for Rolleston http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/news/5222815/Key-lobby-role-for-Rolleston
Statement of Intent 2011-2014 Ministry of Science + Innovation TE PŪNAHA HIRINGA WHAKAEA
Vendômois JS, Roullier F, Cellier D, Séralini GE. A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health. Int J Biol Sci 2009; 5:706-726. Available from http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm
Genetically Modified Soy Linked to Sterility, Infant Mortality http://responsibletechnology.org/article-gmo-soy-linked-to-sterility
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), May 8, 2009, http://www.aaemonline.org/gmopost.html