GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 9th  February 2004

Call for Change in Research Funding as GE Fails where Conventional Breeding Succeeds.

Industry claims, that GE is a more accurate and successful way to alter crops than traditional breeding, have typically ignored the fundamental scientific problems with the GE process, and ensuing contamination of the food supply. Now even the biotech industry's basic claims for GE are being proven wrong, casting increasing doubt on the value of public funding of biotech crops by the New Zealand government.

Recent experiments show conventional breeding of an indigenous sweet potato in Africa has created a virus free high-yielding plant, whereas trials to develop a virus-resistant sweet potato, by genetically engineering the plant, have been a dismal failure.

"The proof that conventional breeding research can more easily develop resistant varieties comes as no surprise." says Claire Bleakley from GE Free New Zealand in food and environment. “Global seed companies need to be told that both consumers and farmers are averse to any control of seed stocks by GE patented seeds.”

GE tubers weren't resistant to the virus and were much smaller in comparison to conventional controls. A recent study in the US also reveals overall yields in commercialised GE crops are lower than conventionally bred crops and need more chemicals after the first few years.

“Evidence is mounting that public funding of GE research is not the best way for government to spend our taxes,” says Claire Bleakley. “The benefits or organics and IPM are proven – not speculative: so why is being gambled on GE instead of being spent on these sure-bets for New Zealand? The government should listen to their citizens and put precious research money into conventional breeding, organics and research into sustainable farming.”

New Zealand Apple growers have already benefited from a drastic reduction in sprays, new programs now produce high quality fruit with less chemical inputs and residues. This has been achieved by quality research resulting in a mixture of conventionally produced virus resistant trees, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and organic programs.

New Zealand onion producers have signalled that over the past two years, they too have trialled IPM programs, aiming to reduce chemical applications and thus the cost to the farmer and environment. These methods are already solving the problems which are the supposed objectives of Crop and Food's 10-year publicly funded GE onion research.

There are concerns that the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) listens selectively to the large body of scientific information presented by submitters, many of whom have worked in GE science yet remain critical of environmental release.

ERMA's reading of scientific details shows a bias towards permissiveness, rather than a genuine acceptance of the precautionary principle, and the protection of the long term safety of humans, animals and the environment.
ERMA’s staff understanding of the US Benbrook report on increased pesticide use in GE crops does not even reflect the reports findings.

New Zealand's agricultural Crown Research Institutes (CRI's) should be leading the way, as they used to, in conventional and organic, animal and plant breeding. Many NZ scientists have spent their lives selecting and breeding the best traits in animals and plants and have built New Zealand's reputation in the agricultural world market. The push for GE is undermining this. New Zealand cannot afford to lose any more scientists trained in those conventional techniques that are now being found to be superior to GE experimentation. It is time to reinvigorate the expertise in natural breeding area. 

Claire Bleakley (06) 3089842


http://www.gmwatch.org
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Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails
New Scientist, Vol 181 No. 2433, 7 February 2004

A showcase project to develop a genetically modified crop for Africa has failed.

Three years of field trials have shown that GM sweet potatoes modified to resist a virus were no less vulnerable than ordinary varieties, and sometimes their yield was lower, according to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. Embarrassingly, in Uganda conventional breeding has produced a high-yielding variety more quickly and more cheaply.

The GM project has cost Monsanto, the World Bank and the US government an estimated $6 million over the past decade. It has been held up worldwide as an example of how GM crops will help revolutionise farming in Africa. 
One of the project members, Kenyan biotechnologist Florence Wambugu (see New Scientist, 27 May 2000, p 40), toured the world promoting the work. 

Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK, says the researchers went wrong by concentrating on resistance to an American strain of the virus. In any case, the virus is only a small factor limiting production in Kenya, he says. "There was too much rhetoric and not enough good research." Monsanto says it plans to develop further varieties. ... 

The World's No.1 Science & Technology Magazine http://www.newscientist.com --- for how the Monsanto project was promoted through a massive campaign of hype and disinformation:
http://www.gmwatch.org/profile 1.asp?PrId=131

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