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Biosafety Protocol Protects Right To Say No To GE

30 January 2000

Biosafety Protocol Protects Right To Say No To GE

Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons today said an international deal on the trade of genetically engineered organisms had paved the way for New Zealanders to make their own choices about genetic engineering.

The last minute deal was signed yesterday at a United Nations conference in Montreal, after all-night negotiations lead to a compromise on sticking-point trade and labelling issues.

Ms Fitzsimons said the most important part of the unexpected breakthrough was that countries retained the right to keep genetically engineered organisms outside their borders.

"This agreement puts environmental and health concerns on an equal footing with free trade agreements," said Ms Fitzsimons. "While it is a compromise agreement and there are still some concerns to be addressed, the protocol has laid down a base for the international community to build on."

Ms Fitzsimons said the Green Party had informed the Government a week ago on their views on an appropriate negotiating stance for the New Zealand delegate.

"While the Government has not made public what position New Zealand took at the talks, we understand it was much pro-environment and pro-consumer than in the past. I like to think that New Zealand's change of heart may have contributed to the positive outcome in Montreal."

Ms Fitzsimons said the requirement to label shipments of genetically modified commodities (seeds and grains) with a "may contain" genetically modified organisms label was a weak clause, inserted to protect the income of powerful agriculture exporters such as the United States and Canada.

"Of course I would have like to see a strong binding labelling requirement which would leave consumers in no doubt as to whether or not an organism was genetically modified. However, the deal also requires further negotiations on labelling in the next two years, which will be an opportunity for New Zealand to stand up and argue for a clear yes or no label."

Ms Fitzsimons said the international agreement meant the forth-coming Royal Commission on genetic engineering would have some teeth. "If New Zealanders decide they are not ready and willing to accept genetically engineered organisms, then no-one will be able to force them on us."


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