New Zealand's reputation and high standards for food safety and export-quality produce are at risk from the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, with the election on 26th November potentially allowing open-slather for government to further undermine the country's unique marketing advantage.
"This election may be interpreted as providing a mandate for signing up to the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) and the sale of assets to the partnership countries," says Claire Bleakley from GE-Free NZ in food and environment. "But nothing could be further from the truth; secret agreements which undermine our bio-security and food safety standards are not part of good governance."
Information about the TPP agreement is to be kept secret for four years, but there are strong signals that the agreement will lead to a loss of sovereignty over issues that directly affect every New Zealander. This is because all proposed legislation will be vetted by the partnership parties and possibly vetoed. Leaked documents highlight that US interests will be able to lobby to deny New Zealand producers their clean-green reputation for food safety and purity, not least because they compete against US-produced Genetically Engineered and chemical-contaminated products.
One of the negotiation issues of great concern is the potential loss of New Zealand's gold-standard zero tolerance for imported genetically modified seeds. This standard has preserved the integrity of New Zealand production for more than a decade, securing export dollars and protecting the environment and public health.
"New Zealand must not compromise the economic advantage of being world-class and maintaining the gold standard for the least toxic, least contaminated, and most ethical food production system," says Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-Free NZ in food and environment. "These are the qualities that provide a pillar for our national brand to thrive globally and must not be sacrificed in the TPPA."
New Zealand has many independent seed breeders who pride themselves on producing GE-Free seed for export markets using traditional breeding programmes. They deserve government recognition and support.
One of these seeds is Alfalfa, which has become a valuable forage crop due to its perennial nature as well as its ability to withstand droughts. As a legume it has properties that reduce methane and increase milk production.
But a potential hook in any US agricultural Free Trade deal that includes seed is forced acceptance of contamination in the forage and food seeds, alfalfa and corn, which are most valuable to New Zealand, but have been genetically modified in the US resulting in widespread contamination of conventional seed.
A small private seed importer, Phillip Geertson is an alfalfa breeder with over 20 years work developing the alfalfa industry in New Zealand. However, he has had to stop providing high quality US alfalfa seed, as he can no longer guarantee that it will be free of GE contamination.
“One of our unique points of difference in export markets is being GE-free throughout the whole food chain. We are able to assure all our markets that seed grown here are not GE, and animals are not reared on GE forage,” says Claire Bleakley.
The MAF zero tolerance standard around GE seed importation must be kept in place to protect farmers and New Zealand's export markets. Further, government must show support for New Zealand seed breeders to develop a viable GE-Free forage and crop seed market.
There is potential to develop a multi-million dollar business that can supply and guarantee quality and purity for our farmers and for overseas markets. This opportunity must be protected and Minister Tim Groser owes it to all New Zealanders to ensure any trade agreement preserves our sovereignty to benefit from our GE-Free agricultural status into the future.
Specialty Seeds http://www.specseed.co.nz/lucerne.asp
PGG Wrightsons seeds, white clover, Joanne Amyes http://www.pggwrightsonseeds.com/products/legumes/
Germinal seeds (NZ) http://highsugargrass.co.nz/
Jon Carapiet 0210507681
Claire Bleakley 0273486731