GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 24th  August 2004

Welcome Mat for Biotech Investment Must Have Strings Attached

Investment of overseas money into biotechnology is being welcomed by government but must be regulated to ensure it is not used for projects unacceptable to the New Zealand public.

Government has recently committed $15 million of public money to the biotech sector. Protocols must be developed to ensure the spending of any future public monies for such research is in the national interest. This is vital to prevent New Zealand being exploited as a "wild west" playground for inappropriate and unethical developments like "pharming".

GE Free NZ welcomes investment in good science that is ethical and respects the values covered by the Royal Commission on GM, and which includes the Precautionary Principle. However, it would be unacceptable for the government to put any more taxpayer money into outdoor GE crop or animal development. Any misdirected investment into GM/GE could further threaten the viability of our biggest CRI's.

Genetic engineering (GE) has been found to have deleterious effects on the health of humans, animals and environment. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences revealed gaping holes in the regulation and safety testing of genetically engineered foods.
The report says regulatory agencies are not capable of spotting unplanned, manmade, adverse changes brought about in the creation of biotech foods or determining the human health effects of those changes.

GE is not a sensible option for our economy. The biotech company with patents on Transgenic 1(TG1) growth hormone should not be allowed to proceed until existing evidence of cancer-causing side effects are understood.

"The risk is that rather than benefiting our economy, we will find New Zealand vulnerable to the whims of investment entrepreneurs having contaminated our environment and health into the bargain," says Claire Bleakley from GE Free NZ in food and environment.

GE Free New Zealand totally supports biotechnology that use techniques like marker assisted breeding to identify traits to create vigorous plants and animals through natural breeding.

If the Life Sciences venture capital is being used for the revival of genetic engineering of our plants and animals there is great danger to the biosecurity status of New Zealand. As for lab-based work the Bio Ethics Council needs to be more involved to prevent unethical experiments.

Overseas money should not be used to kick start a GE sector riddled with poor science, whose outcomes rely on flawed techniques. Throwing money indiscriminately at the GE sector is a recipe for disaster.

New Zealand has spent billions to preserve our quality products in a disease free country without genetic engineering. The public need to have guarantees that this is not to be compromised, and that investment will be directed into ethically designed, laboratory contained biotechnology projects.

Claire Bleakley (04) 971 9606 a/h

The Life Science Ventures fund headed by Howard Moore will have $100 million to play with. Picture / Brett Phibbs

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