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Greens intrigued by Minister's claims

The Greens will be watching Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton with interest to see how he explains how genetically engineered crops are 'compatible' with organic production.

In a press statement last week Mr Sutton supported comments by the vice president of Federated Farmers, Tom Lambie, that genetically engineered agriculture techniques could accompany organic production methods.

"Given that organic markets have been wiped out by contamination from genetically engineered crops and considering the fundamental differences between organic production and genetic engineering, the Greens believe it is impossible for the two sciences to exist side by side," said Green Agriculture spokesperson and organic farmer Ian Ewen-Street.

Today the Primary Production Select Committee started its inquiry into organics and was told by representatives from BioGro, the Organic Products Exporters Group and Heinz Watties ltd that organic production and genetic engineering were not compatible.

"Organic production and genetic engineering are mutually exclusive," said Mr Ewen-Street. "Organic production is seriously undermined and jeopardised by genetically engineered agriculture. The two simply cannot co-exist."

"The higher premiums for organic produce are directly related to the global rejection of genetically engineered foods or those contaminated with chemical residues," he said. "In my experience, Mr Lambie's views are not shared by most organic farmers or the organics industry.

Mr Ewen-Street said Mr Sutton should consider that while some scientists and some farmers supported the genetic engineering of base food ingredients, consumer resistance to it was united and strong. He was surprised to see a government minister throw his weight behind such a controversial suggestion, especially so soon after the announcement of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into genetic engineering.

"The Greens wish to make it perfectly clear that we believe New Zealand cannot have it both ways. We cannot be the cleanest, greenest country with the safest and most sought after food in the world and be genetically engineering crops, plants and animals for consumption," he said.

Mr Ewen-Street said the inherent conflict between some scientists and producers and the consumer was simply not being addressed. "Mr Sutton is mistaken in thinking we can have our cake and eat it too. We have to decide as a nation which path we take and not be dictated to by pressure from minorities with vested interests," said Mr Ewen-Street.

Ends Jonathan Hill (press secretary): 04 470 6719, 021 110 1133

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