GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 28th  July 2004

MAF warned against GE seed sellout

MAF have been warned against deliberately allowing GE-contaminated seed to be planted in New Zealand in their apparent effort to save on costs of enforcing bio-security laws.

In a letter to senior MAF staff GE Free NZ in food and environment has warned that they have no mandate from the New Zealand public to push a political agenda that New Zealand should officially allow low-level GE contaminated seed to be grown.

Corson Grains- the company most recently involved in a corn-contamination incident- has been lobbying for a relaxation of rules to save them compliance costs, and it is understood MAF is preparing papers to present to Cabinet.

"This underhand move is totally unacceptable," says Jon Carapiet from GE free NZ in food and environment."MAF have been put on notice that any attempt to throw in the towel on improving and maintaining gold-standard regulation of imported seed because of corporate pressure will be seen as a betrayal of the national interest."

It is alarming that instead of upholding the law and ensuring costs are recovered from the guilty parties such as those holding the patent on the contaminating-gene, MAF are lobbying to save the companies money by dropping standards.

It appears MAF have made no effort to recover costs from the company owning the contaminating Liberty T25 seeds, nor the lab Biogenetics Services, which ignored test results showing GE contamination was present.

MAF seem not to realise that just because a law is occasionally broken, it does not make the law "unworkable". On the contrary, with further improvements in MAF's processes New Zealand can have the best level of protection for our environment, exports and the community. The public demand nothing less, and it is a small price to pay to protect the
integrity of our exports and environment worth tens of billions of dollars each year.

It is wrong to claim all seeds are so contaminated it is impossible to secure GE-free seeds, and it is nonsense that the current standards for testing cannot be improved further, or to state it "requires every seed to be destroyed in the process".

With the introduction of Pharmaceutical crops in some countries overseas, there is even greater reason to maintain the zero-tolerance standard for GE contamination in seed.

Recent lead contamination in cornflour has been a major concern, and authorities must imagine the impact of even "low-level" GE contamination by a pharmaceutical crop which has already occurred in the US and required hundreds of acres of crops to be destroyed.

Both locally at the border and internationally under the Cartegna protocol, the regulatory system must be able to maximise the separation of GE crops from conventional and organic foods and must not legitimate contamination as an easy option."Lowering standards now is a recipe for disaster in the future. It cost over a billion dollars to recall Starlink GE corn which accidentally ended up in human food in the US, even though the biotech industry regarded
Starlink as presenting only a minor threat to public health," says Mr Carapiet.

GE-Free NZ in food and environment warns against bowing to political pressure from companies like Corson's Grains. They claim that because there will be future breaches of the law the public must accept creeping and increasing levels of contamination which ultimately saves them money.

Simon Terry of the Sustainability Council of New Zealand points out that another company, Pacific Seeds, had taken a better approach and developed a programme called "Gateway" to screen its seed. It planted American seeds in glasshouses, tested leaves from the plants, and then bulked up for sale seed from the plants definitely known not to include engineered DNA. It was then able to sell the seed at competitive prices.

If zero tolerance is abandoned, the main beneficiaries would be the seed importers not prepared to match the technology innovation and protect their customers. "Government needs to protect exporters delivering to very demanding markets, not importers who fail to innovate," Mr Terry said. MAF are expected to present papers to Cabinet within weeks in support of what MAF admits is a "political decision" to allow low-level GE contamination in seed.

Contact: Jon Carapiet 0210 507 681

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