NZ's Clean Green Image Hangs in the Balance
New Zealand must retain it's "clean and green" image with overseas markets if it is to benefit from the international demands for organic products, the Hon Phillida Bunkle told the Soil and Health Association Conference, Organics 2020, today.
"If we are to consider our long-term position in the international organic products market, it's clear that New Zealand must make a choice.
"We must choose either a biotechnology-based agricultural sector, or an organics based one. It is time someone waved a huge flag in front of the primary production sector and I am willing to be that person . . . we must maintain the clean, and green image of our primary production sector," she told the conference.
The Associate Minister of Economic Development, Associate Minister for the Environment and Consumers Affairs Minister said that New Zealand needed to make the most of overseas demand for organic products.
"New Zealand, as an internationally recognised "clean green" country is poised to make crucial decisions that will directly affect our ability as consumers to have choice, guaranteed safety, and true information about the food products we purchase."
Ms Bunkle said that Japanese food importer Mr Korekiyo Terada, who addressed the conference yesterday, was convincing in his plea that New Zealand maintain its reputation as having a primary sector considered safe from GE.
Japanese consumer groups had already written to Australian and New Zealand farmers and agri-businesses this year warning that Japanese consumers were concerned about the potential health and environmental hazards of GMOs.
"Last year Japan accounted for 12.7 percent of New Zealand's exports – that's 12.7 percent amounted to $2.9 billion."
Ms Bunkle said her visit on Thursday to the East Coast had firmed her views that organic production was a sustainable means of economic development.
"This Government's economic development policy will invest heavily in projects that sustain communities, sustain the environment and create jobs over the long term."
Ms Bunkle said Government needed to carefully consider its decisions on future strategies around the GE and Organic issues. While the Royal Commission of Inquiry into genetic engineering would address many of those issues, New Zealand still needed to consider its position on organic production.
She will head a special East Coast regional taskforce aimed at developing organics as an economic development opportunity for the region. She is also the only Minister so far, who has put her hand up to be part of an organics taskforce set up by Agricultural Minister Hon Jim Sutton. The ministerial taskforce will look into the promotion of organics.
She also told the conference that labelling of organics was another important part of the debate.
"While this debate continues, it is important that the organic claim is credible. In defining the organic product, we will be able to ensure the integrity of the organic claim. I have made it one of my priorities to address this and inhibit the growth of organic frauds."
Ms Bunkle said that she favoured the idea of an organic labelling system that recognised different degrees of organic purity – the bottom line being spray-free products.
"I rather fancy the idea of a five-star organic product or even better a top grade product being marked by a 'Kiwi Green' sticker!"
Ms Bunkle said she was aware that her views would not be popular in some parts of the primary production sector, but that it was important to debate the issue.