GE Free NZ, 27th May  2003

School children vulnerable to biotech industry PR 

The government's plan to promote Biotechnology to schoolchildren would be welcomed by GE-Free NZ in Food and Environment if the government could show a commitment to genuine science and the precautionary principle. 

Unfortunately until that becomes possible, parents and teachers can have little confidence that the potential benefits of biotechnology will not also be used to promote genetic engineering in the open environment and to mislead young people rather than inform them.

Recent comments from government ministers have revealed their lack of understanding about the issues surrounding GM, a subset of biotechnology that carries uninsurable risks, and outside the lab can cause irreversible contamination.

" When Phil Goff supports a trade complaint at the WTO to push GE food on Europe, he fails to realise he is participating in a scientifically-corrupt process driven by commercial interests, not sound research,' says Jon Carapiet, from GE Free NZ in food and environment.

" Marian Hobbs is pushing a bill to allow commercial release of GE based on co-existence that will require all food to allow ' acceptable levels of GE contamination'. At the same time the government is supposed to be enabling a labelling regime for GE-Free food that would in effect be illegal as no foods will any longer be GE free," says Mr Carapiet.

" There are many good scientists who know that the Life Sciences industry are sacrificing the precautionary principle, business ethics, sustainability and human rights to push their products. Those scientists must speak out and ensure the education system serves the interests of the students, rather than sells them corporate PR designed to mislead

Jon Carapiet 09 815 3370

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Schools become the new biotech incubators

By SIMON COLLINS science reporter

Schools will get more materials to teach students about biotechnology through an official strategy published today.

The strategy, first proposed two years ago by the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, also outlines plans for "dialogue" with New Zealanders so that they "have trust and confidence in the development of new biotechnologies".

The Government backed the strategy in this month's Budget with $500,000 in the coming year, ri! sing to $1.4 million a year from next year, for "promoting an innovation culture" in biotechnology.

Monique Warring, the communications manager of the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, said the money would be used "to provide balanced and practical information to increase New Zealanders' awareness and appreciation of biotechnology".

"It will involve a variety of different processes including school biotech education, possibly a website, travelling exhibitions and a variety of publications. 
"There will definitely be some resources provided to schools for the new technology curriculum and for the science curriculum strand, 'Making sense of science and its relationship to technology'."

Biotechnology - making useable products out of living organisms - is revolutionising healthcare and food production around the world through dramatic advances in understanding the genes that drive all plants and animals. ! It is one of the three key sectors which the Government picked last year as the focus of its growth and innovation policy, along with information and communication technology and creative industries.

In schools, biotechnology is one of seven technological areas in the new subject of technology, which has been compulsory from years 1 to 10 (primer 1 to form 4) since 1999.

Taking its cue from the royal commission, which recommended "proceeding selectively with appropriate care", the strategy adopts an overall approach of "development with care".

It argues that it is in New Zealand's trading interests to keep "a gold standard for safety", but adds: "We must do so in a way that supports innovation and does not load the system with unnecessary complexity and costs."

The document endorses many of the proposals made by an industry taskforce this month, but coyly avoids mentioning tax changes that the taskforce wanted.! Officials are still working on those changes.

Science Minister Pete Hodgson said "development with care" meant the Government wanted New Zealand to "reap the benefits of biotechnology in a responsible and sustainable way".

"Constructive community engagement and public confidence in effective regulation will underpin growth in biotechnology."

Herald Feature: Genetic

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