New Zealand farmers are being warned against heeding comments by Barry O'Neil - deputy director general of MAF Biosecurity New Zealand- supporting the use of GE animal feed.
Mr O'Neil, speaking on a trip to Europe, claimed food shortages will force consumers to accept GE crops.
But he ignored studies showing crops like GM soy yield 10% less than conventional crops because of "yield drag", as well as evidence of harm to animals and people from GM crops.
"It is vital that New Zealand farmers stay alert to the rejection of GE crops - including for animal feed - by consumers at home and in our overseas markets," says Jon Carapiet from GE free NZ (in food and environment).
"There are good commercial and ethical reasons why advertisements for Tegel and Inghams include a declaration that they do not use GM feed. Similarly an advertisement for Steinlager Pure highlights the fact that New Zealanders have embraced GM- free production to be as much part of our cultural values and identity as Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Everest, our nuclear-free policy, and giving women the right to vote."
Experts from the UN who have investigated the global food crisis only recently confirmed that GM crops are not a solution to the problem.
Indeed, GM crops that survive weedkillers and absorp the chemicals into food, require more oil-derived inputs, encourage monocultures, and are subject to patent-controls including the creation of so-called "Terminator" seeds, represent a serious threat to sustainable agriculture.
It is shameful that a senior MAF offficial should be so misleading with his comments. His analysis ignores the fact that New Zealand can only hope to continue to benefit from our clean, green, natural image by maintaining the highest integrity of the food system and excluding GM crops.
Farmers must be aware that even so-called "approved" GM feed that has prompted protests when imported to New Zealand, has not been independenty safety-tested. Under New Zealand law liability for any harm may ultimately fall to the farmers or food manufacturers who use their products. The Australian Insurance Council has warned food manufacturers that use of GM ingredients could see them face 'asbestos-style' lawsuits in decades ahead.
Of equal concern is that imported GM feed carries the risk of containing illegal and experimental GM variants never intended to enter the food supply. Countries like the US which are growing GM crops are seeing repeated breakdowns in segregation and regulation.
" The push to spread GM crops is a disaster in the making, and New Zealand farmers should have no part in it," says Mr Carapiet.
"New Zealand's future rests in an ethical biotechnology strategy that uses understanding of genetics, such as through gene-marker assisted breeding - to inform research but not to release GM organisms."
Jon Carapiet 0210507681
Livestock farmers need access to genetically modified crop technologies if they are to help feed the burgeoning world population, says Barry O'Neil (pictured), deputy director general of MAF Biosecurity New Zealand and president of the World Organisation for Animal Health OIE. Cost and responsibility roadshow organised by Farmers Weekly and RASE 23 June-3 July.
Speaking at a briefing in London he said the world population was set to rise by 50% by 2020. Already a third of all arable crops were grown for animal feed, with some fed through inefficient feed conversion systems. Unless efficiency improved output would fail to keep up with demand.
"I think we are entering a new phase, dominated by environmental issues, climate change and rising demand, and unless new varieties are introduced we are not going to be able to feed the world. I think the food shortages will help to move the GM debate forward."
The technology had been around for a while, with no adverse effects, he felt. "I believe quite strongly that although many consumers oppose GM crops, to improve the productivity of crops and the animals they feed GM holds the most promise. I do believe that we need to work together as society to help this happen.
"By 2050 we will need twice as much food, produced from less land and with less water and more pressures around environmental sustainability. These are real challenges we need to get our heads around, and I think we need GM crops to help us."
Author: Charles Abel