Criticism by the NZ Food and Grocery Council's CEO Catherine Rich of consumer action marking World Food Day, is unfair and fails to understand the connection between addressing world hunger and the threat from GM crops.
In a statement condemning concerned consumers for what she perceives as hijacking the day in New Zealand (1), Catherine Rich says the focus should be on world hunger instead of �using it to attack food companies and their retail partners.�
�Consumers have just sent retailers a letter for help on a food safety issue," says Claire Bleakley President of GE-free NZ in Food and Environment. �It is unclear why Catherine Rich sees consumers voicing their concern as something to be condemned or as an attack on her partners in the food industry, but she is wrong. She should know better than most that the grocery retailers have been allies on the side of consumers by keeping GE out of their own-brand products. So should she be.(2)�
The public have seen official regulation fail at Pike River, in the financial sector, and now it is happening in food regulation. The NZ Food and Grocery Council should be warning retailers that they may be financially liable for selling a potentially harmful product. One of the GM products of particular concern - GM Maize meal - has been linked to liver and kidney damage in animal feeding experiments which were conducted using a similar type of GM food. How can the NZ Food and Grocery Council criticise the public for asking for the product to be withdrawn, or for there to be a warning sign on the supermarket shelves? There is a potential risk that inhalation of dust from the product which might generally be harmless, could trigger an immune response in some people.
�The evidence that shops may be selling an unknown and potentially illegal product demand a precautionary approach,� says Claire Bleakley. �Why should consumers be left to carry the risk when even the insurance industry refuse to insure against gradual harm caused by GMOs?"(3)
The Grocery Council is also mistaken in claiming there is no link between GM food, world hunger, and sustainable food production, which are the themes for World Food Day. On the contrary, there are significant connections that explain why consumers around the world have opposed the spread of GM foods into the food chain.
The promise of GM foods helping the poor is a myth. Despite the hype, there has been no increase in yields from GM crops. In many cases there is a 'yield-drag' meaning less food is produced (4). Growing GM soy on deforested land in order to feed cows for beef-burgers is also a disaster for the planet.
The UN has shown that climate-smart agroecological farming in the developing word can double food production in ten years, with no risks from GMOs. Conventional and marker assisted breeding are delivering greater success than GM foods without the risks of increased toxicity and poisonous chemicals absorbed into food.
The threat to food security also comes from monoculture industrial GM farming unleashed on the developing world. The development of 'Terminator' seeds as one of Monsanto's genetic use restriction technologies (GURTS) to control patents, is a threat to food independence and widely seen as crime against humanity.
Ms. Rich should also not ignore the hundreds of thousands of farmers who have committed suicide in India where GM crops have been sold with high-cost chemical inputs, but where the technology has failed, leaving millions with crippling debt that some cannot burden (5).
In the context of warnings by independent scientists about regulatory failure, the US Right2Know march, and the campaigns of people like Vandana Shiva in India, New Zealand consumers taking part in World Food Day show themselves to be more aware of the issues of hunger than The Food and Grocery Council CEO herself. People do not deserve to be condemned for speaking up for what is right.
Claire Bleakley 027 3486731