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ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

24 July 2002

GREEN REAPER - NEW ZEALAND'S PM COULD LOSE THE ELECTION OVER GM SCANDAL - THE GUARDIAN

1. Green Reaper - NZ's PM could lose the election over GM scandal
2. GE-Free and Spin-Free Day
3. Life Science Network Advertisement
4. Wasting scientific talent and financial resources on genetic
engineering

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1. Green Reaper - New Zealand's PM could lose the election over GM scandal

http://www.guardian.co.uk/gmdebate/Story/0,2763,761959,00.html
Andy Rowell and Bob Burton
Wednesday July 24, 2002
The Guardian

When the results from this Saturday's New Zealand general election are announced they will be nervously monitored by a host of international biotech companies, the US government and non-governmental organisations worldwide.

The election may confirm the worst fears of Novartis that its successful - but previously secret - lobbying to conceal a major genetically modified seed contamination incident may have backfired.

The outcome will decide whether a moratorium on the release of GM organisms is extended indefinitely or ends in October 2003. With a population of only 3.8 million, New Zealand is a small agricultural market. But the prospect of any country rejecting GM crops outright is unpalatable for the biotech companies.

The Labour government, led by Prime Minister Helen Clark, is reeling from "Corngate," a controversy that erupted two weeks ago with the release of a book - Seeds of Distrust - by investigative journalist Nicky Hager. Based on leaked government documents, Hager revealed how the government covered up GM contamination of imported maize seed.

In November 2000, the government was informed that a 5.6-tonne consignment of "GM free" maize seed imported from Novartis in the US was contaminated.

New Zealand does not allow for "new organisms" to be knowingly grown irrespective of the level of contamination. There was also a voluntary moratorium on the release of GM organisms while the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification considered future policy options.

With only half of the GM contaminated seeds planted - covering 178 hectares - the documents show that Clark initially favoured destroying both the crop and unused seeds. However, Novartis's PR company campaigned to ensure the crop and seeds escaped destruction.

In December 2000, the government buckled and adopted a threshold level of GM contamination of 0.5%, below which GM contaminated seeds would be deemed "GE free". In so doing, crops and unused seed could be grown and processed into food products.

Pressed by the seed industry, the government gradually shifted from a "do it properly" to "cover it up mode", says Hager. "We could just as well be talking about Britain. Political management based on secrecy and public relations allowed all the constitutional processes to be bypassed. Had the decision been made public, they would never have got away with it."

When the royal commission released its report in July 2001, it recommended that the government approve the use of GM crops. The New Zealand government agreed to a mandatory moratorium until October next year.

Since the scandal broke, GM supporters have argued that there was no GM contamination, just contamination of the seed by "dirt from a shovel", or that the results were "false positives".

The government, too, dismissed the revelations as "conspiracy theories". Environment minister Marian Hobbs said, "There has been no cover-up and there was no evidence of GM contamination in the corn seed. For there to be a cover-up there needs to be something to hide. There was nothing to hide."

With the controversy overshadowing Clark's election campaign, the government released more internal documents.

However, the documents only shed more light on lobbying by the US government and biotech industry. In an echo of arguments used in other countries - most recently, in Mexico - the documents reveal the biotech industry warned the NZ government that GM contamination was inevitable.

The documents, Hager says, reveal that the biotech industry was "driving the government response on the issue". In one email, Novartis's PR adviser wrote to a government adviser "we have taken the liberty of drafting an updated statement that diverts the debate from the maize issue to a more generic issue" of the need for a threshold for GM contamination.

The documents also reveal that the agricultural attache from the US embassy had "concerns about the tolerance levels for accidental contamination of sweet corn consignments that differed from 1%".

When Clark called the election, she urged voters to give Labour an absolute majority in the single house parliament. Since the revelations, opinion polls reveal that Labour's support has slumped from 51% to 46%.

Worse still for Clark, Green Party support has surged to the point where they may once more hold the balance of power. The Greens say their support for a minority Labour government is conditional on an indefinite extension of the GM moratorium.

The controversy has resonance in the UK, too. "As the government faces its decision to allow commercial growing, it should learn some lessons from New Zealand," says Sue Mayer, from GeneWatch UK, who is a member of the government's GM advisory panel, the agricultural and environment biotechnology commission.

"One of the suspicions people have here is that the government won't act fairly because it is too closely allied to the biotechnology industry. If it is to be trusted, the government has to demonstrate its intention to act in the public interest."

Andy Rowell is author of Don't Worry - It is Safe to Eat, to be published next year by Earthscan; Bob Burton is a freelance journalist based in Australia.

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2. GE-Free And Spin-Free Day

Press Release from Green Party, July 23, 2002

All seven Green MPs will be out on the streets tomorrow reminding people that voting Green at the election is the only way to stop the Government lifting the moratorium next year.

"There's far too much spin in the GE debate already, so we'll be concentrating on setting the record straight and giving out very informative leaflets and stickers," said co-leader Ms Fitzsimons.

"I'm amazed by the comments from the Prime Minister on National Radio today that she is opposed to extending the moratorium because it could have a "devastating" impact on the economy.

"In actual fact, extending the moratorium could only benefit the economy by building on our international reputation for safe, natural, healthy food.

"By lifting the moratorium, the Government would be trashing that reputation. Embracing the release of GE is the surest way to devastate our economy."

Ms Fitzsimons said there were no New Zealand commercial releases ready to go in the next three years anyway, so extending the moratorium was a safe and reasonable way to go.

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3. Life Science Network Advertisement

Press Release from PSRG - Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics
Wednesday, 24 July 2002.

Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics are disappointed to see that the LSN has committed the very fault they attribute in their ad to "anti GE fanatics" - misinformation.

Most New Zealanders urging caution with genetic engineering experimentation are not suggesting research stop. They simply ask that our health and our environment be protected.

Over 90 percent of transgenic crops are confined to the American Continent. Official data shows the increase in plantings has slowed considerably - in 2002 GE soy grew 4 percent, cotton 3 percent and corn 4 percent - while organics increased 25 percent in the UK and Canada. European and Asian export markets have barred GE imports. US farmers feel betrayed because the promised benefits have failed to materialise.

US farmers will receive up to US$190bn in subsidies over the next decade. Soy alone is carried by an almost 70 percent subsidy. Share price indexes reflect investors‚ disappointment. Monsanto shares are down about 52 percent in value in one year. The Scottish Farmers Union declared that planting transgenic crops was economic suicide. Insurance companies have put GE alongside nuclear accidents, war and Acts of God: they will not insure the risks. Do such moves reflect a growing, profitable industry?

New Zealand scientists are "in a very good position to be the world leader in GE technology." They could undertake studies to substantiate the claims made against GE human insulin; around 20 percent of users have problems. Or they could test for allergenic reaction in consumers, including infants, to the Cry9C protein in StarLink corn using sound scientific protocols. They could run independent food safety tests to ensure consumer safety.

New Zealand science could ride the knowledge wave - by keeping genetic engineering in the laboratory and thus keeping it safe. Since transgenic research outside the Laboratory represents only a tiny fraction of the research being undertaken in NZ this is not a big ask.

PSRG (www.psrg.org.nz) has no affiliations with industry or any political party.

Enquiries to 64 7 576 5721 or <roberta@clear.net.nz>

Spokespersons: John Clearwater PhD - 09 828 3339 or 025 224 8955; Dr Paul Butler 09 445 9054

ENDS

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4. Biotechnology Research

Press Release from PSRG - Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics
Tuesday, 23 July 2002.

Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics claim there is a real danger that scientific talent and financial resources will go to waste on genetic engineering research on crops and animals.

GE is but a small part of biotechnology, a part having failures and problems - lower yields, poor and inconsistent performance in the field, increased use of pesticides and reduced profit for farmers.

After 25 years of research, the vast majority of GE products are still under development. The only real commercial products are GE crops, a handful of pharmaceuticals and enzymes harvested from GE bacteria. The predicted financial boom from genetically engineered crops has not materialized, nor the promised benefits to agriculture. The dropping share market value and downfall in US exports reflects this.

New Zealand has great achievements and strength in science, but contrary to claims by the Life Sciences Network and government this knowledge does not lie solely with genetic engineering. If we truly want to keep our scientists in New Zealand we should be looking at other, more productive and promising areas of research.

The grossly unbalanced concentration of research funding in market-oriented genetic engineering biotechnology is far from helpful in encouraging scientific creativity in other essential fields. Should this imbalance continue New Zealand will indeed fall behind other nations. By putting all our eggs in the GE basket more promising approaches to improving sustainable, agricultural methods and human health will fall behind from lack of funding and investment.

Press Release from PSRG - Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics
Tuesday, 23 July 2002.
PSRG has no affiliations with industry or any political party.
Enquiries to 64 7 576 5721 or <roberta@clear.net.nz>
Spokespersons:
Peter Wills PhD -  09 373 7588 Ext 8889;
John Clearwater PhD - 09 828 3339 or 025 224 8955;
Dr Paul Butler 09 445 9454.

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