GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 19th December 2003

Timing of Erma Decision insensitive to Christmas

The timing of ERMA's public announcement of its decision on field-trials of GE onions is insensitive to Christmas.

A decision has been made and advance notice of it given to submitters.

But a media embargo has been put in place to ensure the news doesn't come out until Christmas Eve- when most New Zealanders will be busy with plans for the holiday.

Releasing negative stories at Christmas time has become a familiar tactic of government and agencies as a way to bury stories.

"In this case the coincidence of ERMA's announcements and the holidays may be an unhappy outcome of the long-decision making process, but nevertheless the timing and embargo till next week is less than ideal," says Jon Carapiet of GE Free NZ in food and environment.

But the decision will be scrutinised and is very likely to be challenged as new information emerged in recent weeks that the very type of GE crops being trialled have increased use of sprays across the US over the last few years, rather than reduced them as industry had claimed.

GE Free NZ in food and environment has already written to ERMA asking that this new information from a team of leading US scientists should be considered. If not, any decision on the GE onions should be reassessed.

"The facts are out: now it is a test of ERMA to see if they can really be trusted to consider them. This is the litmus test to establish if ERMA are just a machine for rubber-stamping experiments - albeit one with the image of a 'complex and rigorous methodology' " says Mr Carapiet.

The new scientific evidence support earlier findings by the Royal Commission that patented "Round-Up Ready" crops (resistant to a Monsanto herbicide) and similar GE crops have virtually no benefit for New Zealand.

Monsanto has been linked to the GE onions trial being planned here despite efforts to keep information secret because of "commercial interests". A challenge to the ombudsman about legitimacy of a decision by ERMA to
continue the secrecy of gene constructs is also being made.

2004 looks set to be no less contentious than 2003 as the New Zealand public, manufacturers, and our export customers demand GE-free foods are protected from GE contamination.

In making their decisions ERMA have been asked to recognise the significant cultural shift in New Zealand over the last 18 months in the public's rejection of external GE releases that threaten our values and economy as well as contaminate the environment.

However, our export markets should be reassured by government that all New Zealand fruit and vegetables are GE  free and will likely remain so.

New Zealanders share a cultural view that contained ethical biotechnology has different issues to irreversible and uninsurable GE releases into the environment.

"Just as we want to be nuclear-free , New Zealanders across the spectrum are saying we want a food-system and environment that is GE-Free," says Mr Carapiet.

GE Free in food and field is clearly part of our shared culture and aspirations when it brings together artists, writers, musicians, actors, film-stars, sportspeople, farmers, doctors, scientists, chefs and food manufacturers, and 70% of the population.

Jon Carapiet - 09 815 3370

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