GE Free NZ, 11th June  2003

Supermarkets reject GE Foods

New Zealand supermarkets excluding GE ingredients in their house-brands should be taking a lead from their counterparts in Britain, who have told Prime Minister Blair that they will refuse to sell any GE foods. The report in the UK Observer shows that most consumers continue to want to avoid GE foods and in line with this, are demanding full labeling of GE foods so they can choose to avoid them.

Unfortunately the opportunities for New Zealand growers and food exporters to meet this growing market is under threat by the push to compromise the GE-free status of production here in order to allow commercial GE release to �co-exist� with conventional and organic production. 

The basis of co-existence is to allow a little contamination and abandon the standards of � zero contamination� that the public and authorities responsible for ensuring fair trading practice want.

New scientific reports (see below) continue to reveal the alarming spread of GE contamination into non-GM crops, but governments and industry continue to argue that the farmers and the public must accept this, despite the denial of basic consumer rights, the threat to the environment, and other issue such contamination raises. 

�Protecting the supply of 100% GE free food that can be legally labelled, exported, and preserves New Zealand�s opportunities must be a priority for government,� says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment. �We are demanding the New Zealand government commit to this and require ERMA to protect GE free production in the national interest.�

Most supermarkets and major manufacturers in NZ too have committed to pursuing a GM-free policy for their products. Right now all NZ-grown fruit and vegetables are GM-free.

The moratorium on GE release must be extended in order to protect this opportunity and keep up with the market trends internationally.

There is no market for GE food so why are New Zealand Crown Research companies pushing GE onions and potatoes, instead of improving GE-free and organic production?

Contact Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370

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Appended articles: Supermarkets tell Blair: we won't stock GM New Evidence of GE contamination of seed

Supermarkets tell Blair: we won't stock GM

Mark Townsend
The Observer, Sunday June 8, 2003

Supermarkets have told Tony Blair they will refuse to stock genetically modified foods, even if he manages to persuade a sceptical public to accept GM produce.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents 90 per cent of high-street shops, has sent an  unequivocal warning to the Government that GM food is not commercially viable in the UK.

It argues that, while consumer antipathy towards the biotech industry remains so entrenched, major retailers such as Tesco and Sainsbury's will resist any move to stock GM products.  Their united stance threatens the Prime Minister with the embarrassing scenario where GM crops are commercialised, yet no major outlets will sell them.

David Southwell, of the BRC, confirmed it had made its position clear To the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency.

'The customer is where the real power lies,' he said. 'Supermarkets are not going to give shelf space to something that doesn't sell.'

Sainsbury's, whose former chief Lord Sainsbury, the Science Minister, remains a staunch advocate of GM, confirmed it been in talks with the Government over GM food.

The spokesman said the supermarket giant had no choice but to continue rejecting the technology as long as customers 'made it clear' they did not want GM produce.

Continued hostility to the biotech industry follows the launch of last week's national debate on GM food and crops, condemned as a 'PR stunt'.

Critics add that the failure by the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett to explain how the debate would affect the Government's Decision on commercialisation has further undermined its integrity. 
Her admission arrives amid mounting concern over the safety of GM food and in particular the Government's apparent refusal to commission an exhaustive study into its health effects.

Dr Vyvyan Howard, a toxicologist at Liverpool University and member of the Government's advisory committee on pesticides, believes the decision may have arisen from fears that they 'were scared of what they might find'.

He added: 'There is no logical reason for not doing this type of research other than they may be frightened of the answer,' he added. 
Last year the FSA commissioned the world's first known trial of GM Foods on human  volunteers. It found that genes from GM food survive in the human gut and may be picked up by bacteria in the body, raising fears that consumers may contract infections resistant to antibiotics.

The FSA's failure to follow up the potentially critical findings with further research has come under fire, with Arpad Pusztai, the scientist who first raised fears about the safety of GM foods, yesterday calling on the head of the FSA, Sir John Krebs, to resign.

Supporters of biotechnology point to the US, where GM food has been on sale for years with no evidence of adverse health effects linked to its consumption. Opponents counter that it remains impossible to know what the effects of eating GM long-term are because consumers have never been monitored for its effects.

A Defra spokesman said GM foods were subject to a detailed safety assessment before they were approved for release. 'This considers all the risk factors that may arise in relation to health,' he added.

New Evidence of GE contamination of seed
The spread of transgenes from genetically modified crops is a great threat to the quality of certified seed. Canola (oilseed rape in the UK) (Brassica napus, B. rapa, B. campestris) is the second most valuable crop in Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), a sub department of Agriculture Canada, requires a distance of 200 metres separation between fields growing certified seeds from any other Brassica, and a distance of 50 metres from weedy relatives. Recently, however, producers of hybrid canola seed have required a separation of 2 kilometers from a Brassica crop, in recognition that pollen from a Brassica crop may travel as far as a kilometer or more. CFIA separation distances are evidently inadequate for insuring the purity of certified seeds.

Friesen, Nelson and Van Acker in the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, studied certified canola seed stocks for contamination due to transgenes for herbicide tolerance to glyphosate, glufosinate or thifensulfuron [1]. Certified seed stocks were studied in field plots to which herbicides were applied. The results showed that 95% of 27 certified seed lots were contaminated with herbicide tolerance transgenes; with 52% of the seed lots exceeding the 0.25% maximum contamination standard set for certified seed. Some lots were tolerant to both glyphosate and glufosinate. 

A year earlier, Downie and Beckie from AgriFood Canada in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan [2], examined 70 certified canola seed lots using a laboratory Petri dish assay. They found 59% of the seed lots had detectable herbicide tolerance and 25% had contamination levels exceeding the maximum acceptable standard for certified seeds. The standard for cross contamination was established for conventional not transgenic cultivars, and presently, there are no standards for transgenic contamination of certified cultivars in Canada. Standards for transgene contamination of canola oil or oilseed cake for animal feed would be desirable, and even necessary for export purposes, given the requirements for labeling and traceability in Europe.

The extensive contamination of certified canola seed with transgenes for herbicide tolerance is staggering. The Canadian canola crop extends over some 5 million hectares, of which roughly 60% are planted with transgenic varieties. The extensive cross contamination by transgenic varieties could have been foreseen and predicted at the time field trials of transgenic crops were carried out. By now, it seems unlikely that transgene- free canola can be produced in western Canada. It is disturbing that CFIA appears to be totally unconcerned over the extensive contamination, which is evidence of gross negligence in oversight on its part. 

Friesen LF, Nelson AG and Van Acker RC. Evidence of contamination of pedigreed canola (Brassica napus) seedlots in western Canada with genetically engineered herbicide resistance traits. Agron. J. 2003, 95 (in press). Downey RK, and Beckie H. 2002. Isolation Effectiveness in Canola Pedigree Seed Production. Internal Research Report, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Saskatoon Research Centre, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7N 0X2, Canada, 2002, 14 pp. 

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