ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
10 August 2002


1. Anderson responds to NZ GM debate


1. Anderson responds to GM Herald debate
The Timaru Herald, August 5, 2002 [via Agnet]

Robert Anderson, a member of Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics group, responds to last week's genetic modification debate in the Herald between Life Sciences Network chairman William Rolleston and Sustainability Council chairman Sir Peter Elworthy.

The comments from both sides of the genetic modification debate have proved interesting and informative. However, there are major issues not addressed by Dr Rolleston of which the public are unaware, facts that the Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics group have long fought to bring to public understanding. Like Sir Peter's group, PSRG has no political or industrial affiliations.  Dr Rolleston maintained that our "standards are very high - the toughest in the world". This is obviously not the case when the Government can overrule the Environmental Risk Management Authority, as it did in the recent corn scandal.

He also maintained that "application is open to public scrutiny and objection". There have been countless thousands of objections to applications so far, but virtually all [applications] have been accepted. Robust objections raised by our PSRG scientists have been ignored.  Dr Rolleston's comment that the Royal Commission "was open and inclusive" and the standard for evidence higher than achieved in the public arena is doubtful. This commission was not held under oath, neither did it subpoena vital evidence on important issues.

His claim that "over 500 million tonnes of GM food has been consumed over the last 10 years without one allergy, sickness or death attributed to GM" begs one question. In those 10 years, United States food-borne illness statistics have increased up to ten-fold.

Of course we can't say the cause is GE, but who is checking? Little else has changed in the American diet.

Dr Rolleston has obviously not seen the video of United States and Canadian farmers who, having lost their livelihood, implore our farmers not to grow GE-crops, or he would not have maintained that "over 50 million acres of GM crops are grown in the United States and yet the United States organics industry continues to expand".

As for his "sterile GM tobacco plant producing human medicines has different risks and benefits to GM canola", it certainly does. Transgenic tobacco, engineered to produce a health supplement, instead produced a poisonous acid which does not exist naturally in tobacco plants. His statement that "GM is safe and has been shown around the world to be beneficial to society and the environment" is very questionable.  The science of genetic engineering is basically flawed. It is certainly not the "precise science" maintained by the industry. Scientists predicted years ago that GE was bound to fail, since it opposes everything we know of how genes work.

There is a real danger that scientific talent and financial resources are going to waste on GE, while more promising approaches to improving sustainable agriculture suffer from lack of investment.  New Zealand has great scientific strength, but the disproportionate concentration of funding towards market-oriented biotechnology will be far from favourable to scientific creativity.

A study of biotech centres in the United States just released shows most biotech firms operate at a loss. Dr Rolleston gives no reference to his claimed 10 per cent fall in GDP and a loss of 120,000 jobs.  The biotech bubble has burst. Even the Wall Street Journal declared "With the controversy over GM-foods spreading across the globe and taking a toll on the stocks of companies with agricultural-biotechnology businesses, it's hard to see those companies as a good investment, even in the long term."
Medical biotech's also becoming an increasingly doubtful investment. The PPL company spent money expanding its high-security farm containing more than 1000 sheep, many genetically altered. A spokesperson for ING Barings recently stated they have had doubts about the viability of transgenic animals for some time.

To date there have been no medicines made from transgenic animals, a process that is inefficient and ineffective. Celera and PPL are not the only biotech companies in trouble. Investment in biotechnology is falling rapidly.  Sir Peter's call for a five-year moratorium is both in line with the request of international scientists and that of farmers who understand the dangers of this formidable technology. Knowing his reputation as a farmer, I would suggest his council gave considerable thought to this request.


2. Corn crop seized in new GE scare

August 9, 2002
The New Zealand Herald
Mathew Dearnaley, Simon Collins

About 30 tonnes of suspected genetically modified corn seed produced on farms around Pukekohe and Gisborne has been discovered and will be destroyed.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is moving quickly to contain damage from the country's second major GM contamination scare in a month. Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said last night the new discovery showed GM corn or maize was now so widespread in the US that New Zealand should stop importing any more seed from there.

Officials have been much swifter this time to disclose their findings after author Nicky Hager last month dropped a bombshell into the the election campaign by revealing an alleged contamination cover-up almost two years ago.

Word of the new scare came late yesterday when MAF said Queensland-based Pacific Seeds had reported possible contamination from tests conducted on Monday on seeds produced by contract growers.

MAF acting director-general Larry Fergusson said the firm offered to destroy the lot, before being directed to do so, to protect its reputation for being GM-free. He said the seed was grown to supply to farmers rather than for direct human consumption, and none had entered the food chain.

But he could not rule out the possibility of contamination of neighbouring crops.

Pacific Seeds had supplied documentation assuring MAF and the Environmental Risk Management Authority that stringent isolation standards were observed, but the farms would be re-inspected to guarantee no further contamination.

Mr Fergusson said the corn was grown in 16 lots. He did not know how many farms they were in. He was reasonably confident all the suspect seed had been gathered into three secure locations, but further checks were being made.


August 9, 2002
Green Party Press Release

Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons today said New Zealand should stop importing sweet corn and maize seed from the United States and instead source seed from countries which had not planted GE crops.

This evening MAF announced that commercial maize crops grown in Gisborne and Pukekohe have tested positive for genetic modification.

"This seed was imported from the US which has high levels of genetically engineered crops and makes little effort to keep them separate," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"The Greens would like to see New Zealand stop importing sweet corn and maize seed from the US and to start sourcing these seeds from countries without GE crops which can guarantee the integrity of their seed."

Ms Fitzsimons said there are other countries which do not have GE maize from which we could have imported this seed.

"To source seed from these nations and to reject the potentially contaminated seed from nations like the US would be the best first step we could take to protect our agriculture from contamination and to protect our GE-Free status and our international markets.

"However, if Labour is able to proceed with its proposal to allow the release of 100 per cent GE crops, then incidents like this will pale into insignificance.

"That is why the Greens cannot express confidence in the current government," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"But it is not too late for Labour to think again."

Ms Fitzsimons said she was pleased the Government had briefed the Greens about this incident, that none of the seed from the original maize crop had so far been re-planted and that no maize had been consumed.


August 9, 2002
Green Party Press Release

Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons today called for the establishment of an international seed trade network made up of countries which have not planted genetically engineered crops and have adequate biosecurity controls to prevent accidental genetic contamination.

"We are very close to the point where there will be no commercial seed source left in the world that is not contaminated with GE varieties. We still have no idea of the long-term consequences of this and it could be a global disaster," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"We need to move very quickly if we are to secure genuinely GE-Free seed sources for the world's food supply.

"What the Greens propose is that we form a network of GE-Free countries with good biosecurity and seed testing facilities which trade only with each other in agricultural seeds where GE varieties exist," she said.

"If the nations which can still guarantee that their seed is 100 per cent GE-Free formed a trade network they would not only be securing a major economic advantage but would also be protecting the world's future options if GE crops turn out to have unintended long-term effects.

"A GE-Free seed trade network would be a major economic opportunity for a number of developing countries as well as providing some much needed resistance to increasing global pressure from the biotech industry.

"We cannot afford to let the entire world's food supply be contaminated by products who's long term effects are still not known, and it is in leading this resistance that nations like New Zealand could play a part."


August 8, 2002
The Land

The NSW Farmers Association wants the brakes applied to moves to release Australia's first genetically modified (GM) canola varieties for commercial production next year.

At its recent annual conference, the association - after an at-times impassioned 90-minute debate - decided the release of GM canolas should be postponed until government and industry had fully addressed identity preservation issues affecting marketing and trade.

The decision marked a significant step back by the association from any automatic embracing of GM canola, much to the frustration of delegates who believed farmers should trust the approval processes.

The conference rejected a motion from a member of its biotechnology task force, John Rogers, to delay taking a position until it had seen what conditions the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) put on the commercial release of the varieties.

It also rejected a motion that the association support any farmer opposed to GM crops in any litigation resulting from GM genes being found in their crops.

The long-simmering issue was brought to a head by a decision by two international companies in the past few weeks - Monsanto and Aventis CropScience - to apply to the OGTR for approval to release GM canola varieties next year.

NSW Farmers grains committee chairman, Angus Macneil, in his report to the conference, called for any decision to be based on scientific facts, not "emotion and innuendo".

But he acknowledged the visit to Australia in July by Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser, and US farmers, Gail and Tom Wiley, had raised the level of concern about the release of GM canola - "I believe unnecessarily," he added.

(Mr Schmeiser was successfully sued by Monsanto for breach of patent when Roundup Ready canola appeared in his crop. The court rejected his claim his non-GM crop had been contaminated by neighbouring GM crops on the grounds the level of Roundup Ready canola in his crop had been too high to be explained by environmental contamination.)

Mr Macneil said the Australian approval process provided an enormous amount of "jumps, hurdles and hoops" before any release.

But mover of the successful resolution, Arthur Bowman, Molong, said a general release of GM canolas next year would put Australia in an "irreversible" position.

"If we go in that direction I can't see we are going to be able to reverse any problems that we might get into."

He said at present Australia had a product it could sell using its "clean, green" image.

"If we lose that we will not have market access."

Peter Toole, Grenfell, opposing Mr Bowman's resolution, said he could see no premium out there yet for non-GM canola.

"We want to put more money in farmers' back pockets."

Graham Strong, Narrandera, supporting Mr Bowman, said a Corowa feedlot was seeking a $30 million contract for non-GM feed to produce cattle for the Japanese market.

In addition, Pulse Australia had expressed concern that the commercial release of GM crops could result in Australia losing access to some or all of its export markets for pulses in Europe, the Middle East and India.

But delegate and Grains Council of Australia president, Keith Perrett, said there was nothing to stop farmers growing GM-free crops if they wanted to.

"What this is trying to do is to remove that right and rob them of the opportunity to increase productivity."

Executive councillor, Hugh Roberts, said the release of GM canolas would allow for different streams for GM and non-GM canola.

He said protocols for this were being devised by AFFA (Agriculture, Food and Forestry Australia) "at this moment".

But Warwick Anderson, Narrandera, said that unlike a herbicide that had become unacceptable, GM crops could not be withdrawn from the environment.

The conference carried Mr Bowman's motion on the voices and another that the association support stringent monitoring of field trials of GM canola to ensure they complied with OGTR requirements.

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