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GE Moratorium Rustles Feathers Behind Scenes

Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitsimmons will tomorrow meet with the Prime Minister to discuss the GE Royal Commission and accompanying moratorium – an announcement on which was put off for another week today.

Today Ms Fitzsimmons was not commenting on recent discussions with the government on the issue, but all indications indicate the tensions over the issue of just what is a moratorium are intensifying.

Both the Alliance and the Greens favour a compulsory moratorium on all genetically engineering experiments while the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the science is underway. Labour, the main force in the coalition , favours a softer voluntary moratorium.

This morning Alliance MP and Associate Minister for the Environment, Phillida Bunkle was reported on Radio New Zealand saying the Alliance had softened its stance on genetic engineering so as not to be seen to be “holding the government to ransom” on the issue.

Ms Bunkle today attended the Cervical Cancer Inquiry in Gisborne in somewhat non-traditional circumstances, not as a Minister of the Crown but as a representative of a health trust.

Both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Bunkle’s party leader Jim Anderton, appeared to be treating her actions with kid gloves today.

In the post cabinet press conference the PM said that her minister’s actions in attending the inquiry were okay so long as “she observes the appropriate boundaries” in her roles.

In a statement this afternoon Ms Bunkle rejected the reports of an Alliance back down as speculative and premature.

She said both the Labour and the Alliance would continue to support a “robust moratorium” which the Alliance would push to make compulsory.

While the matter would be discussed in Cabinet today, the Government would not make a formal statement about the issue until next week, she said.

This indeed appears to be the case, with an announcement now finally expected next week. However at her afternoon press conference the Prime Minister said the issue of the nature of the moratorium – whether it should be voluntary or compulsory – was settled and had been since the Speech from the throne.

The moratorium, she said, was primarily involved with the imposition of stricter controls on GE trials rather than outlawing field experiments.

Last week the hearing of an application from AgResearch to conduct muscle growth experiments on sheep has highlighted the issue of what in practice this will mean, and this may in part be what has raised Bunkle’s anxiety levels.

Meanwhile National’s Agriculture spokesman Gavan Herlihy said the Alliance back-down highlighted that there was no scientific justification for having a compulsory moratorium.

He said a voluntary moratorium would only be a face saving measure, “to provide some political comfort for the Alliance and the Greens.”

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