GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment,7th July  2003

Hold GM Company liable for contamination costs

The biotechnology company, holding the gene patent for BT11 corn, need to be held liable and pay for the costs of the most recent contamination caused by their product.

Sunshine Coast- the company who have inadvertently sold GE corn to Japan, must not be used as a scapegoat by the biotech industry and left to carry the costs, and nor should the New Zealand public.

" We need strict liability laws which allow authorities to go back to the source of the problem - that is companies who have won regulatory approval and are promoting the environmental release of their patented products which then contaminate other non-GM products," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment.

The New Zealand government should also require seed-importers to find an alternative source of seed for crops such as maize, which have undergone commercialised genetic engineering in the country-of-origin, and are more likely to be contaminated.

"It is a threat to our national bio-security to continue to import seed from countries where widespread contamination is most likely. We reject the Minister of the Environment's claims that there are no alternatives: we suggest she has never asked her officials to find them. That is something the government must now do," says Mr Carapiet.

The importation of certain kinds of seed leaves farmers in a bind if they want to grow GE Free products as they are dependent on MAF to test and approve incoming seed consignments.

MAF however cannot guarantee 100% GE Free product, but an obvious precautionary step is to not buy seed from countries were regulation is already known to have failed.

The biotech industry has got away with contamination of food supplies particularly maize for too long, most notably the contamination of corn in Mexico: its centre-of-origin.

"The only way to stop the insidious progress of GM constructs into our food supply is to hold the companies concerned liable" says Jon Carapiet. "If a company patents a gene it must also accept responsibility for it when it causes harm or contaminates another crop".

It is inappropriate that the NZ public will have to fork out for MAF services, the destruction of GE contaminated crop and any mitigation required. Genetic tags identifying companies producing these unwanted products should be introduced to allow them to be prosecuted for contaminating crops.

Some provision for these companies to be charged for contaminating our crops and soil should be inserted into the New Organisms and Other Matters Bill now before the Select Committee.

Urgent explanation is also needed from MAF / ERMA about why they are considering pollen-drift as a cause of contamination. What field-trials have taken place that would cause such contamination, and why were controls not in place to prevent it?

It is of great concern that so little is understood about the mechanisms of GE crops, once they are in the environment that there is no understanding of whether the gene constructs may have infected the ground and ensuing crops, or via use as feed - animals entering the food supply.

The research the government has initiated must be completed and independently reviewed before the moratorium is lifted. 

Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370

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