The moratorium on commercial release of genetically modified organisms in New Zealand ended at midnight tonight with continuing protests, opponents threatening sabotage, and surveys right up to the last moment showing overwhelming opposition to the end of the moratorium.
Yesterday, five anti-GM protesters were arrested (see item 2) after refusing to take down tents pitched on Parliament's front lawn on Monday without permission. Police waited till media reps were covering the installation of the main opposition party's leader to take action.
The protesters warned there would be direct action against GM projects. "We will be using whatever means necessary within the non-violent toolbox."
In parliament, the two members of the Labour-led government's junior coalition member, Progressive, invoked their right to vote against their senior partner and sided with the legislation's opponents.
Just after the legislation was passed, a petition with 55,000 signatures, calling for a five-year extension to the moratorium, was presented to Green MPs, the most staunch parliamentary opponents of GM.
A recent opinion poll showed that 53% of those polled did not have confidence in the regulatory body ERMA
see BBC coverage here
GE protesters arrested after struggle
New Zealand Press Association, 29 October 2003
Protesters against genetic engineering are vowing more direct action after five of their number were arrested during a struggle with police at Parliament yesterday.
Parliamentary security guards, backed up by about 30 police, swooped on a "tent city" at Parliament yesterday after protesters defied an order to remove the tents and equipment on Monday night.
The group set up about 15 tents on Parliament grounds on Monday after earlier being asked to move from a roadside grass verge by Wellington City Council.
At 11am, security manager Andrew Standish, acting on behalf of Speaker Jonathan Hunt, ordered the protesters to pack up their gear or face being forcibly removed.
While most of the 40-odd group complied, a small group in one tent refused to budge.
Police were ordered to remove the group and, as they pulled a struggling woman away, another protester tried to free her.
He was put in a headlock and wrestled to the ground. Several officers fought to restrain the man as he resisted.
Three other protesters were arrested and dragged away by police.
GE Free president Claire Bleakley said the removal of the tents did not spell the end of their protest. She warned that further direct action would be taken if the Government went through with plans to lift a moratorium on genetic modification today.
"We still, as a group, will be protesting. We are here for the long haul. Each person has their own way of showing the concern they have with the GE issue. This is the beginning of our protest and it will be followed with more direct action," she said.
She would not specify the nature of that action but said some protesters were willing to put their bodies on the line if planting of genetically modified organisms took place. Violent protests were not planned, she said.
Wellington police area controller Inspector Marty Grenfell said the five arrested - three men and two women - faced charges of wilful damage, assault, breach of the peace and resisting arrest. They were released on bail and would appear in Wellington District Court on Friday.
Police had taken an even-handed approach removing the protesters and had handled the situation well, he said.
Meanwhile, Environment Minister Marian Hobbs said the end of the GE moratorium would not mean a rash of releases of genetically modified organisms.
"The floodgates will not suddenly open," Ms Hobbs said in a statement.
"Anyone proposing to release a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) has to apply to Erma (Environmental Risk Management Authority) and go through a rigorous assessment process, which includes public submissions."
An approval would only be given if minimum standards designed to protect health, safety and the environment, Ms Hobbs said. Also, the benefits of the release had to outweigh any adverse effects, including economic effects.
Ms Hobbs also pointed out amendments strengthening GE legislation were to come into effect tomorrow, including a new category of conditional release.
"This will allow ERMA to attach controls on a case by case basis to any approval to release new organisms."
Other changes included enforcement procedures to ensure GE release conditions were not breached - individuals could be fined up to $500,000 and companies up to $10 million, three times the value of any commercial gain from the release, or 10 per cent of the company turnover, whichever was the greater amount.
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