ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

15 July 2002


As support for Labour slides (item 3), how extensively Novartis's PR company was consulted on the contaminated corn issue in NZ is coming into ever greater focus (item 1). It seems they were even given the opportunity to comment on a planned govt press release. They tried to get the wording altered, changing the reference from corn or swetcorn, to maize - NZers have no idea what maize is!

The company in question, Communications Trumps, allegedly, was previoulsy involved in telling King Salmon not to publicise the fact that their engineered salmon were at times deformed!

Communications Trumps is also said to have been behind NZ's orginal GE spin machine, GenePool, which despite claiming to be "independent" was exposed as drawing funding from Monsanto and various pro GE organisations.

1. Papers show industry too close to GE corn story
2. GM Contamination Suspicion Remains Strong
3. Slump leaves Clark as unhappy as a dog with 2 tails


Papers show industry too close to GE corn story
Jeanette Fitzsimons MP, Green Party co-leader
15th July 2002

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today she was concerned that papers released by the Government over the weekend showed industry were involved in shaping the way the GE corn story was presented to the public.

An email from Novartis PR to Government officials on 6th December said "We have taken the liberty of drafting an updated statement that diverts the debate from the sweet corn issue to a more generic issue of recognising the need to develop a practical process."

"In the end, the Minister for the Environment presented the story in her press release on 19th December in exactly the way that industry PR recommended," said Ms Fitzsimons.

Another email from MFE to ERMA, the Minister's office and MAF revealed that industry was shown the draft release before it went out and seemed "comfortable" with it, although Novartis "did ask if we need to mention sweet corn". MFE advice was that "we may as well be upfront given the number of people out there who know about it."

"It is completely inappropriate that industry PR was party to the decisions about what the public should be told," said Ms Fitzsimons. "Those decisions should always be made independently by Government."

Ms Fitzsimons said the papers showed widespread confusion amongst Government officials about whether a tolerance level for GE seed contamination was in place. Some were still confused in June 2002.

"There is a very clear lesson that can be drawn from this whole disaster. Our regulatory system could not cope. I do not have faith that it will be able to cope if the moratorium on commercial releases is lifted next October."


2. GM Contamination Suspicion Remains Strong
Monday, July 15, 2002
Press Release by Peter R Wills, University of Auckland, July 15, 2002

The results and papers released by the Government do not lay to rest the suspicion that GE-contaminated corn was planted and harvested in New Zealand. If anything, they increase the suspicion.

On the day that ERMA presented its analysis of results (5 December 2000), GeneScan Australia, one of the testing companies wrote to Novartis seeds saying "Our experiences in qualitative testing leads us to believe the samples received contain trace amounts of GM sweet corn."

The probable contaminant is even identified by the testing firm: "One may draw the conclusion that samples received at GeneScan Australia from Novrtis Seeds do contain trace-contaminating levels of Bt11."

I would categorically contradict any scientist who said there was no suspicion of contamination on the basis of the test results. Four samples tested positive for the nos terminator which is found in BT11 and two of only three samples tested for the Cry1A construct from BT11 gave ambiguous results.

The instability of results obtained by testing for the 35S promoter has been widely discussed in the literature (see below), so failure to find this genetic construct cannot lay suspicion of contamination to rest. "Two knobs" are not required suspicion, especially when one of the "knobs" is the 35S promoter.

Scientists have a responsibility to point out uncertainties where they exist, not to present their political masters with a convenient air of authority. It would appear that the inept collusion between government, industry and scientific interests described in Hager's book is continuing

The genetic testing produced suspicion of contamination with BT11 corn, a suspicion that has never been resolved.

Just as a false positive for a tumour can only be satisfactorily resolved by finding a cyst, a false positive for GM corn can only be resolved by identifying another contaminant (like a bacterium), or by performing a proper standardised control experiment on material known to be contaminated at a specified level.

It has never been shown that the positive results from genetic testing of corn imported and sown in New Zealand were false. The further tests needed to establish clarity were not done.

Last week I lectured at the NGO "Asian Genetic Engineering Workshop" in Chiang Mai, Thailand (14 countries represented). The most two significant points of discussion at the workshop were:

1) There are no significantly new GE crops on the horizon, except for low-nicotine tobacco. Extending New Zealand's moratorium on commercial release for 5 years will have the effect only of keeping out herbicide-resistant, Bt and combination crops (in addition to the tobaaco). There are no new consumer-benefit crops or GE-foods on the horizon.

2) The US is aggressively pursuing a policy of linking acceptance of GE crop technology to economic assistance in the Asian region. New Zealand is most unlikely to be able to negotiate a free trade agreement with the US if the moratorium is extended.


3. Slump leaves Clark as unhappy as a dog with 2 tails [shortened]

NZ Herald - By VERNON SMALL deputy political editor, July 15, 2002

Slap in the middle of the four-week election campaign it has finally happened.

For the first time, a poll has delivered a result at odds with Helen Clark's fond hope of winning an absolute majority (with a little help from Jim Anderton) from her "two ticks" campaign.

She had wagered that the public would shy away from allowing a small party tail to wag the Government dog.

But last night's One News-Colmar Brunton poll confirmed the recent trend.

Instead of persuading voters to dock the minor party tail, she is now being dogged by two of them - the Greens and New Zealand First.

It seems a mixture of GM corn, faked artworks and Winston Peters' three-fingered assault on crime, the Treaty and immigration have stripped enough support from  Labour to throw Clark's first grand plan into serious doubt.

For the moment, she will be relatively relaxed.

Her fall-back position has always been a minority Government which would allow her to operate as she has for the past 2 1/2 years - seeking a majority issue by issue, and playing the Greens and New Zealand First off against each other.

A parliament based on last night's poll would put her in that position again.

But any further erosion of Labour's vote - by three or four percentage points - would set up a more worrying outcome for Clark, one in which only one of the parties - most likely the Greens - had the numbers to give her a majority.

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