GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 25th  February 2004

Floods illustrate risks of accidental spread of GE

The recent devastating floods in the North Island have left many people homeless, and farmers ruined. The floods covered large  distances, with crops and animals often being found a long way from where they came. Organic and conventional farms have been left to clean up seed, leaves and in some cases carcasses from other farms often many miles away. 

What protection would farmers have if floods were to carry crops or animals that are genetically engineered? Have MAF developed emergency contingency plans to deal with any such episodes? Recent events have illustrated the very real risks of damage that GE would have on NZ agriculture. Any such incidents would be unlikely to involve any recompense to farmers or to future generations of New Zealanders.

"The government did not heed the concerns of fruit growers, farmers or the public when it amended the HSNO Act," said Claire Bleakley of GE Free (NZ) in food and environment. "ERMA's response was that "insurance would cover the eventuality" however, insurance companies refuse to insure for "nuclear accidents or GE contamination." The Royal Commission considered that New Zealand would have no use for herbicide or pesticide resistant GE food crops, but suggested �pharm� crops, engineered to produce industrial chemicals and drugs may have some use.

If ever allowed in New Zealand the spread of these GE organisms by accident would be an even greater threat to this country and accidents have already been happening with �pharm� crops overseas. In America, the Washington-based Union for Concerned Scientists warns that �pharm� crops could already be poisoning GM-free crops grown for food, since contamination of food supplies by GE �pharm� crops, usually produced in maize, has already occurred several times.

Studies also show that if soil is contaminated it will be forever. GE Free New Zealand have concerns that GE sheep and any ash from up to 3000 incinerated GE sheep with human genes, could also have been dispersed by floods if they occurred in those areas where trials are being conducted? " We are requesting answers from ERMA as to whether ash was disposed of, on-site or offsite or even put into local rubbish tips?" says Ms. Bleakley? 

UK reports said that BSE was found not to be killed during incineration. Failed UK company PPL�s trial showed three rams had scrapie type changes in the brains. Were the euthanased GE sheep checked for this prion disease before incineration? GE sheep and cows are also may have been disposed of in unlined offal pits. 

If so, leachates from these could now be leaking into ground water in the Hamilton and Taupo regions. Will New Zealand taxpayers be left to pay for any clean up, if indeed this is possible? "What is our Government and the regulatory bodies MAF and ERMA doing about this. The recent devastating floods signal that our biosecurity, environment and health are at risk." says Claire Bleakley.

PPL claimed that AAT was to be used to treat emphysema. Their experimentation was bankrolled by Bayer, who are understood to have conducted years of off-the-record trials with genuine human AAT on USA emphysemics that showed AAT protein to be of little practical use in treating the disease.

It is puzzling that despite the lack of any clinical success Bayer went on pouring millions of dollars into the experiment. A US scientist recently said that even if the claimed benefit of developing drugs through these experiments had been delivered, the risk of contamination of the food supply or breeding stock rises with the number of GE animals and would be a serious threat to our meat export market.

Claire Bleakley (06) 3089842

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Crops 'widely contaminated' by genetically modified DNA
16:43 23 February 04 news service

US scientists are warning of a potentially "serious risk to human health" after the discovery that traditional varieties of major American food crops are widely contaminated by DNA sequences from GM crops.

Crops engineered to produce industrial chemicals and drugs - so-called "pharm" crops - could already be poisoning ostensibly GM-free crops grown for food, warns the study by the Washington-based Union for Concerned Scientists, released on Monday.

"If genes find their way from pharm crops to ordinary corn, they or their products could wind up in drug-laced corn flakes," says the report's co-author, UCS microbiologist Margaret Mellon.

In trials, crops have been genetically engineered to manufacture proteins for healing wounds and treating conditions such as cystic fibrosis, cirrhosis of the liver and anaemia; antibodies to fight cancer and vaccines against rabies, cholera and foot-and-mouth disease. Conventional drugs manufacture is subject to stringent controls to prevent them entering the food chain or contaminating the natural environment. But there are currently no such controls to prevent the spread of DNA sequences from pharm crops.

The UCS asked two commercial laboratories to test traditional varieties of three crops - maize, soybeans and canola or oil-seed rape - for specific sequences of DNA that have been introduced into GM varieties currently grown on US farms. The sequences studied mostly give resistance to proprietary pesticides.

The labs reported that the seeds were "pervasively contaminated with low levels of DNA sequences from GM varieties". Up to 1 per cent of individual seeds, and more than half the batches of seeds, contained one or more of the GM sequences.

There is no evidence that the crops tested were unsafe, say the authors. But they fear this may not be true for second-generation GM crops that contain DNA sequences that manufacture drugs and industrial chemicals.

"Seed contamination is the back door to the food supply," says Mellon. "The realisation that some seeds may already have been contaminated [by pharm crops] is alarming" and could pose a "serious risk to human health".

Until now concern about GM contamination has focused on cross-pollination in the field. But the authors guess that much of the contamination has arisen from a failure to keep GM and traditional seeds apart during manufacture and distribution.

The tests did not discover any crops contaminated with sequences from pharm or industrial crops because there are no current tests for them. But co-author and plant pathologist Jane Rissler warns: "Until we know otherwise, it is prudent to assume that engineered sequences originating in any crop - including genes from crops engineered to produce drugs, plastics and vaccines - could potentially contaminate the seed supply."

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