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Seeds of Change: Saturday's Big Anti-GE March

Seeds of Change

By Steve Edwards.

Between 35,000 to 40,000 people (Greenpeace estimate) marched to keep Aotearoa New Zealand GE free in central Auckland at midday on 11 October. The train system ran late and could not handle the full loads as thousands descended from the out-lying suburbs of one of the world's geographically largest cities. Transrail staff (in charge of a train-set which, like other once publicly-owned resources, is about to be sold to another trans-national corporation) let many demonstrators come to the march free. Their arrival was timely as they surged out of the Britomart station to join from the back as other protestors started the mile and half walk up Queen Street.

This was the 3rd big march in Auckland on the issue of genetic engineering biotechnology. Unlike the two previous marches, this one was also Rain-free, despite weather forecasts of frequent showers. The messages on tee-shirts, banners and placards made it clear that the people there felt that the prime minister, Helen Clark, and her cabinet colleagues, have been unmoved to consider the importance of full public discussion on the introduction of GE, patents on life and the alternatives available. One banner read, "Hang on Helen!", which was created by the Econation group calling for an organic eco-nation by the year 2020.

Greenpeace New Zealand's GE free campaign manager, Steve Abel, said that the GE free movement was strong and that "we aren't going to go away." Abel compared the GE free campaign to the anti-nuclear movement that took 10 years of campaigning before New Zealand was declared "Nuclear Free." People brought friends, whanau and co-workers to participate in the social change requiring the politicians to "listen".

The crowd chanted "Helen - Listen! Helen - Listen!"

Many groups and businesses were present, including MAdGE (Mothers Against Genetic Engineering) which boosts a membership of "two thousand women and their families from the Far North to Bluff" after only 20 months since it was founded by Alannah Currie. Currie took the stage with 15 other women who all wore bright pink bras over black tee-shirts. Currie described how the MAdGE group "has spread like a hot pink virus right across the country." Currie quoted their slogan, "GE, we don't buy it!"

Currie said to the crowd that they had "power in their purse" to get companies to stop using GE ingredients. "If you boycott those companies that are using GE ingredients in their food products ... and you phone them and tell them why you won't buy this stuff, then they will stop using it. It's really easy. Ultimately you the consumer, you the lone shopper, dictate what seeds go into the ground, not just in New Zealand, but right across the world."

Currie mocked the government for their standard responses when people wrote to them asking how they were going to protect the land from GE pollution. She quoted the politicians' replies, in a mock-posh voice, "New Zealand has the most rigorous bio-security systems in the world." Currie ridiculed "sad, pathetic, useless Aunty ERMA" (the Environmental Risk Management Agency) saying that the government agency had never turned down a GE application to date. She stated that "They (ERMA) are a toothless hound guarding the chicken coop of corporate-funded scientists, lawyers and ignorant politicians," to which the crowd cheered, clapped and howled.

"The government did a report on ERMA a few months ago and found forty-nine areas of weakness. If ERMA is our protector, if ERMA is our safeguard, then I ask, would anyone use a condom with 49 holes in it?", said Currie.

Currie stated that she was tired, frustrated and angry of presenting arguments to the politicians who ignored and belittled "us" (MAdGE representatives) every time."

To a roaring crowd in Myers Park, Currie said in her speech, "Hell hath no fury like women ignored. Moratorium, or no moratorium. MAdGE or no MAdGE. The mothers of New Zealand and their families will not give up the fight. One way or another we will keep this country GE free."

Asked after the speeches, if there is an opportunity for the country to discuss the GE issue by extending the moratorium for five years, Abel said, "I actually don't think we should extend the moratorium for five years. We should extend it indefinitely. Do we want to extend the moratorium and then re-litigate in five years? Do we want to be nuclear-free for five years? It should be established as law that we keep our country GE free. Discussion? Christ, we've had so much discussion! The point is the government isn't listening to what the people want. The government don't want to meet us. We call them (the government) up all the time and ask them to meet and they say, 'No. We've made up our mind. We've got nothing more to say on that.' "

In mathematics, it is fact that three events set a pattern. Time will tell whether the third and biggest march (by more than double the two previous events) in Auckland has set the pattern for a movement that "won't go away" until it gets what it wants. Don't ask the Met Office for a prediction of whether the government will prevail or if the winds of change will favour the GE free movement and patent free seeds. Look to history for what has happened to governments when they don't listen to the people.

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