The University of Otago is being challenged to put caveats on claims made in its Genetics lectures, that international consumer concern over Genetically Modified food can be ignored.(1)
The lectures based on research over ten years, claim our overseas customers won't care about GE in our food exports, and that there is no risk to Brand New Zealand from Genetically Engineered foods. One study also shows nuclear power stations, and intensive feed-lots are fine for our Brand and international reputation.
However, the claims are based on research that with hindsight is clearly flawed.
Work by a team led by Otago University Marketing lecturer Associate Professor John Knight, included running food stalls in different countries to test consumer acceptance of GE food, and interviewing first-time tourists on arrival in Auckland.
Much of the research was based on the assumption that a key consumer benefit would be that GE food will have fewer toxic chemical sprays than conventional crops. But data on chemical exposure are showing this to be the least likely outcome from GE foods over the past decade.(2)
Another assumption was that consumer concerns for food safety were unfounded, and the result of media hype and scaremongering. The fact that Food Authorities had approved these foods as safe was taken as doctrine. Today scientists are warning of serious risks evidenced in peer-reviewed studies.(3,4)
"These basic assumptions are now highly doubtful, which means the data is unreliable and could likely mislead decision-makers," says Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-Free NZ in food and environment.
"The rosy picture painted that consumers don't mind GE is based on incomplete knowledge on the part of the consumer to make a reasonable judgement."
The research is also totally blind to Brand marketing: promoting New Zealand products as GE-free and meeting the highest organic standards for purity in the world, both of which fit our values and clean green image.
"There is a need for successful Brands to be authentic and consistent in their positioning," says Jon Carapiet.
"What is the opportunity cost in not protecting and leveraging a GE-free brand positioning for food exports, and having the highest organic food standards in the world?"
The University of Otago should act responsibly by ensuring there are caveats around the claims being made in the latest lectures.
Decision-makers in government and industry would be wrong to believe from these lectures that Brand New Zealand can only gain, and has nothing to lose from 'going GE', instead of promoting GE-free and organic production, and using gene science ethically inside the lab.(5)
Of course consumers overseas care about GE. Look at the battle for GE-labelling going on today in California, with Monsanto throwing in millions of dollars to oppose it. (6)
Jon Carapiet 0210507681
1) John Knight - Should we swallow it? Exploding the myth about perceptions of genetic modification
• Wellington - 6pm 29th August
• Auckland - 6pm 30th August
US data shows that the use of herbicidal and insecticidal chemical toxins are increasing as more GE foods enter the food chain. US-based scientist Dr. Charles Benbrook spoke to an international forum detailing the changes in chemical use with GE crops from 1996-2011. After 15 years the use of toxic herbicides on GE crops has increased whilst non-GE crops have had a reduction in chemical applications, and now a second wave of new herbicide tolerant GE crops such as 2,4-D are now being aded to the mix.
3) A new report "GMO Myths and Truths" * challenges these claims with peer-reviewed scientific and other authoritative evidence of the hazards to health and the environment posed by genetically engineered crops and organisms
HOW THE U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION APPROVED GE FOODS DESPITE WARNINGS OF ITS OWN SCIENTISTS