New Zealander's 'food watchdog' - The NZFSA- deserves praise for pulling GE-contaminated rice off the shelves. But it needs to do much more to encourage compliance amongst companies who ignore the problems of GE-contamination in certain countries when sourcing their ingredients.
GE Free (NZ) would like to congratulate the NZ Food Safety Authority for their action to test and subsequently pull from sale rice contaminated with the unapproved GE rice Bt63.
New Zealand's food watchdog took action after overseas Food Safety Agencies found a comprehensive range of rice products from whole rice to rice flour noodles, rice paper, and pasta had been contaminated with the unapproved strain of GE Bt63 rice coming from China in March 2008.
�Bt is a insecticidal toxin and has known deleterious effects on the blood and organs," said Claire Bleakley of GE Free NZ in food and environment.
�This rice has not been approved in the EU, Australasia or even in China where it came from�.
This incident adds to concerns that the integrity and safety of the whole global food supply is threatened by GE mix-ups in the lab, in distribution of seeds, through field-contamination of crops, and in post-harvest production.
Liabity for resulting harm is a major issue in New Zealand and overseas as the insurance industry have refused cover leaving the public and taxpayers exposed to harm and left paying for the clean up. Innocent farmers and manufacturers are also threatened and are already suffering.
In 2003 the NZFSA asked the Commerce Commission to investigate a New Zealand company for labelling a product GE Free when it was then found to contain trace amounts of GE in its soy ingredients. The business was nearly bankrupted but at the same time other businesses that had products containing up to 60% GE and which were not labelled escaped with a reprimand and 'asked to comply' with the law in future.
This double-standard reveals a bias in application of the regulations and the need to genuinely hold to account those responsible, including companies who claim patent-ownership of the genes that have illegally contaminated other foods.
�The importer must be held accountable and dealt with by the Commerce Commission. Identity preservation procedures would have shown that this rice contained an illegal contaminant. To encourage compliance it is not enough to just ask them to remove the dangerous product off the shelves,� she said.
�It is very concerning that the NZFSA deals with companies pursuing a GE-Free policy in the harshest terms, and quite differently to the light-handed response to companies deliberately using GE ingredients or which make no effort to ensure their ingredients are not GE-contaminated. For consistency and accountability all breaches must be dealt with equal rigour by the Commerce Commission�.
�With the advent of the China Free trade deal the NZFSA will have to be highly vigilant in monitoring imports of foods for unapproved contaminants� said Claire Bleakley."But the fear is they will just turn a blind eye except in the case of major contamintaion identified by other authorities overseas. This is because they see promotion of trade as more important, and would prefer not to have to do anything unless overseas markets demand action."
�The government also needs to take action to support the integrity of the food system. It must ensure that Country of Origin labelling is implemented to stop the export and re-packaging of foods in other countries. But if the regulations are breached they must treat all businesses with the same stick, not let the poluter off-lightly while throwing consumer-oriented GE-free producers against the wall.�
Claire Bleakley (06) 3089842
Unauthorised GM rice found and withdrawn 30 July 2008, Press Release: New Zealand Food Safety Authority http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0807/S00379.htm
Chinese rice products containing an unauthorised rice UKFSA, Wednesday 16 July 2008 http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2008/jul/bt63update