GM onions outdated/GM the new nukes/Keep Kiwi Butter GM-free - Meacher (21/8/2003)

The prospect of genetically modified onions has generated an almost unprecedented number of submissions to New Zealand's Environmental Risk Management Authority, which has received 1,500 submissions on the proposed field trial.

Crop & Food Research wants to try a herbicide-resistant onion. It's the first application for a field trial since NZ's Royal Commission on GM.

Here's an interesting objection (item 1) on the grounds that Crop and Food Research's technology is based on "outdated" crop management techniques.

*Onion trial justification outdated
*GE the new nuke issue - Greens co-leader
*Keep Kiwi Butter GE-free - Michael Meacher
Onion trial justification outdated
Life Sciences Network  posting
New Zealand News > Onion trial justification outdated

Statement made by David Warrick, Managing Director, Certified Organics Limited:

Crop and Food Research's application to field trial GE onions should be declined as their research is based on "outdated" crop management techniques "overtaken" by new herbicide product development.

A main argument Crop and Food is making to the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) for proceeding with GE onion trials is that weed control in relation to onion growing is an "intractable problem" requiring the use of environmentally unfriendly glyphosphate (Roundup) herbicides.

This position is redundant given last year's approval by ERMA for the commercial use of the New Zealand developed herbicide, Organic Interceptor(tm).

Organic Interceptor(tm) is certified as an organic herbicide, eliminates all the weeds identified by Crop and Food in its application as a "problem", and can be used prior to and during the growth period of onions.

The use of Organic Interceptor(tm) will achieve all the environmental and commercial aims put forward by Food and Crop to justify it application. If that is possible through traditional horticultural methods, then there is no need to release GE onions from the laboratory.

Certified Organics has made a submission to ERMA objecting to the field trials.

As a company we have a neutral position on GE. However, we are pointing out to ERMA that the grounds on which the application is being made are not valid.

In addition to achieving the same weed kill as glyphospate, Organic Interceptor(tm) has the added advantage of being a certified organic product. It is also manufactured in New Zealand, not imported.

Currently, organic onions on average receive a 3 to 4 times price margin on onions exposed to chemical herbicides.

At present, only 1% of New Zealand's onion crop is organic. If New Zealand onion growers were to increase this percentage to 5% (similar to that achieved by the kiwifruit industry), the value of our onion export crop could be increased by some $14 million to $110 million.

If ERMA allows the trial to proceed, it is ignoring that there is a practical, cost effective, non GE answer to the problems the applicants say justify the GE trial.

Source: Press Release by Certified Organics Ltd, 21 August 2003
GE the new nuke issue, says Donald
21 August 2003

Keep the genie in the bottle - that was the message from Green Party co-leader Rod Donald to a meeting in New Plymouth this week.
The genie he was referring to is genetic engineering (GE), the moratorium for which runs out at the end of October and which the Greens are anxious to see extended, fearing contamination of the food chain if GE is introduced in New Zealand.
Tuesday's meeting was attended by about 60 people, among them farmers and organic growers, and Mr Donald appealed to them to take any direct action they could to put pressure on the Government to extend the moratorium.
"The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, refuses to accept there is any similarity between GE and the nuclear-free issue, but we believe there are enormous parallels and that the same decision New Zealand made on the nuclear issue should be made here.
"Just as with the nuclear issue, if there is GE contamination there is no going back, our health and welfare is at enormous risk and the main ones benefiting are big US corporates," Mr Donald said.
He encouraged people to contact their local MP, to write directly to the prime minister and to get to do the same. "The Government is very poll-driven and if the concern about GE does not show up in the polls they are not going to change their position."
Mr Donald said the Green Party did not have any confidence in the Environmental Risk Management Authority to administer genetic engineering applications and the party would be fighting every proposal the agency was considering.
"If what is being disclosed about Corngate happened through an accidental release, imagine what might occur in an official release approved by ERMA. We have to do everything we can to restrain the conditional release process and keep GE food out of farms and the environment. Keep the technology in the laboratory.
"It is surprising that we are thinking of lifting the moratorium when, in Australia, state governments are applying them to prevent the growing of genetically-engineered canola. And consider what Michael Meecher, the former UK Minister for the Environment said: `GE is Iraq MkII' - there is no evidence for supporting the introduction of GE food just as there was no evidence for the invasion of Iraq."
Mr Donald said the evidence was that the big companies pushing GE would not be worried about making money from trials in New Zealand.
"They will offer lucrative contracts to growers so they can get in and break down our GE-free status."
If that happened, it would be the end of New Zealand's clean, green image.
"And why would we want to sully that?"
Keep Kiwi Butter GE-free
By Michael Meacher
Dominion Post - 7 August 2003

Former British environment minister Michael Meacher says New Zealand should stay GE-Free

There are parallels between the British and New Zealand debates on genetic modification. Both nations are led by Labour governments that have argued the benefits of releasing GE organisms despite significant public opposition. Both face decisions in a matter of months on whether to formally clear the way for GE crops to be grown.

In preparation for this, the British Government has recently received advice that may have dampened prime minister Tony Blair's willingness to allow genetically modified foods to be grown in Britain. The Cabinet strategy unit reported last month that "any economic benefits from commercial cultivation of current GE crops are likely to be outweighed by other developments, at least in the short term."

It stated that producing GE products " could leave farmers facing a low market price, or in the extreme, no market at all".

This was underlined by representations from food retailers. The British Retail Consortium, representing 90% of food retailers, told the government that "supermarkets are not going to give shelf space to something that doesn't sell".

Given this rejection of GE foods in Britain and by the majority of Europeans, I was surprised to find that the production of GE crops in New Zealand is still an open question.

New Zealand has a reputation throughout Europe, its principal food export market, as a source of clean and pure produce. A reputation that was in no small part earned by your nation's brave stance against another unnecessary and unsafe technology: nuclear power. To an outsider it seems extraordinary that New Zealand would risk this international image through allowing the growing of GE crops. Last week, I visited Canada and witnessed first-hand extensive contamination of their fields with GE canola. The reality is that you cannot have co-existence of conventional and GE: it simply doesn't work.

Any agricultural nation must make a choice between growing GE food, for which there is enormous market resistance, or GE-Free production, for which there is tremendous demand. You cannot have it both ways..

Scientific uncertainties and the irreversible nature of environmental release on the one hand coupled with a clear market rejection of the products on the other suggests a clear course of action for a food-exporting nation with New Zealand's unparalleled reputation. I , and many Britons, would be very disappointed if your fine yellow butter was anything but GE-free.

Europe's consumers and your own are not acting without reason in responding so cautiously to GE foods. It concerns me that pressure is being exerted by the GE industry to force the use and acceptance of GE despite signs that the safety of these products is not certain.

Mr. Blair said in Parliament recently that "it is important for the whole debate ( on genetic modification) to be conducted on the basis of scientific evidence, not on the basis of prejudice."

Exactly so. But what does the science actually indicate? Not, I think, what he and advocates in New Zealand appear to believe.

Though it is often claimed that all genetically modified organisms have been "rigorously tested", all that this testing amounts to is deciding whether a GE crop is similar in terms of its composition to the non-GE plant. This is justified under the rubric of "substantial equivalence", which was originally a marketing term, and is scientifically vacuous. It wholly misses the point that health concerns are focused not necessarily on known compounds, but on the effects of the GE technology, which are unpredictable.

It is really extraordinary that there have so far been virtually no independent studies of the health effects of GE. What there is has mostly been done by the companies themselves. We are constantly told that there is no evidence of any greater health risk from a GE crop than from its non-GE counterpart, but absence of evidence of harm is not evidence of safety. The mistaken assumption that a food is safe till proven harmful was the basis of the great BSE tragedy in Britain.

With GE foods, the effects of possibly creating new toxins or allergens could be subtle and not noticed for many years. It is wrong to claim that GE foods are safe, especially when no long-term feeding trials on humans have been done. These uncertainties have been acknowledged by some of Britain's leading institutions.

The Royal Society, in its reports last year, said that the potential health effects of GE foods should be rigorously investigated before allowing them into baby food or to be marketed to pregnant women, elderly people, and those with chronic disease.

This was because GE "could lead to unpredicted harmful changes in the nutritional state of foods."

A recent British Medical Association report noted that "any conclusion upon the safety of introducing GE materials into the UK is premature, as there is insufficient evidence to inform the decision-making process at the moment".

 In its report to the Scottish Parliament six months ago, the association stated that "there has not yet been a robust and thorough search into the potentially harmful effects of GE foodstuffs on human health; in the UK, not enough is known to enable us to give accurate risk of assessment of the health impact of GE crops on the health of local communities".

It is often claimed by the biotech companies that there have been millions of people in the United States consuming GE foods for several years without ill-effects. However, there have actually been no epidemiological studies to support this claim.

What is known is that, coinciding with the introduction of GEO's in food in the US, food-derived illnesses are believed by the US Centre for Disease Control to have doubled during the last seven years.

 And there are many reports of a rise in allergies- indeed a 50 per cent increase in soy allergies has been reported in Britain since imports of GE soy began.

None of this, of course, proves the connection with GE, but it certainly suggests amn urgent need for further investigation of this possible link. However, this has not been forthcoming.

Potential health risks from GE foods are one part of the equation. The environmental effects are just as uncertain, and, particularly for New Zealand, the economic risks should be a very significant concern.

Restrictive new European GE labeling laws combined with the extensive efforts of food companies to avoid any GE crop ingredients in response to customer preference guarantee that any GR food products will be pariahs in the global marketplace.

As a food-producing economy, New Zealand has a great deal at stake, and the case for maintaining and safeguarding its GE-free status could hardly be stronger.

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