GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 25th July  2003

Law must protect GE-free production- MPs told

The law should enshrine the protection of GE-free production against genetic contamination: that was the message in a plea made to the Parliamentary Select Committee considering the New Organisms and Other  Matters Bill today. The plea for legislation requiring ERMA to protect conventional and organic producers was made during a presentation of the public-interest submission by GE Free NZ in food and environment by Jon Carapiet. 


The release of a survey by Colmar Brunton showing 80% of New Zealanders want GE-free production to be preserved was cited at the hearings as adding support to thousands of public submissions carrying a similar message. Tension has been rising over preserving the option of GE-free production in New Zealand after earlier submitters from the biotech industry and Federated Farmers called for food to allow 1% GE contamination, effectively destroying the opportunity for New Zealand to meet the demands of our major overseas customers. � ERMA must be required by law to protect GE-Free production� said Jon Carapiet, citing yesterday�s article in the Business Herald warning of the serious damage to New Zealand from loss of GE free exports. 


Answering a question from Act MP Donna Awatere Huata about ERMA, Mr Carapiet urged the committee to read the full details of the recent independent report on ERMA that signalled major flaws in their skills and ability to control GE, as well as their coordination with MAF. �There is no way ERMA�s structural and other flaws can be fixed before October or likely even if a five-year moratorium on release was introduced,� said Mr Carapiet. "A total coherent management system would need to be developed upfront, not on a case by case piecemeal basis, and there was no sign of that being possible."

Mr Carapiet also explained to National MP Dr. Paul Hutchison that New Zealand was still GE-free in terms of food production according to officials and that if there was secret evidence of wider contamination the government should reveal it now. Any such contamination as that suggested by Dr Hutchison as perhaps having already occurred would be a crime, with enormous implications for New Zealand. Explaining the difference between conventional crops, (including those derived from mutagenesis) and GM crops the committee was reminded that the use of viral promoters and antibiotic resistant markers had prompted warnings by the British Medical Association and other doctors. MP�s were also told that agreement on industry and government standards for GE-Free labelling had been developed in response to the Royal Commission proposal for a voluntary GE-Free label to allow people to choose. �That labelling would become illegal if food becomes contaminated by 1% GE contamination as a threshold. We are GE-free now in crops, fruit and vegetables� said Mr Carapiet.

Other submissions from Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics reassured MP�s that a 5-year moratorium on release would not result in an exodus of scientists, or loss of expertise from New Zealand as some Biotech lobby groups have threatened. A moratorium was the most scientifically- reasonable approach in the national interest. There is no economic argument for commercial release and the work of ethical science in containment could continue as it already does. GE represents only 3% of investment in biotechnology research in New Zealand. There is public concern also that thousands of submissions by members of the public had been sidelined from the hearings. The New Zealand Herald reported that last night one submitter was removed by police after complaining against the decision by the committee not to hear those public submissions. 


MP�s are understood to be under fear of attack by the public and have asked for special protection. GE Free NZ believes any imagined threats to the hearing process are as likely to come from disturbed GE scientists wanting to undertake illegal experiments, or from hard-core sectors of the Biotech Industry itself, which, the international media reports, have used force to promote GE in other countries.

Contact Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370

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