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Preserving opportunities - but closing off options

30 July 2001

"Preserving opportunities" - but closing off options

Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today that the Royal Commission recommendations would close off all New Zealand's future options other than GE - if they are adopted by Government.

"Despite all their nice words about keeping New Zealand's options open, the Commission has recommended a faster path to the field release of GE crops than we had before - destroying our current market advantage of guaranteed GE-Free exports.

"The Commission's proposal for a category of release with conditions called 'contained release' will allow many concerns to be overridden, without offering any real safeguards for the environment. The industry has been agitating for this category for several years.

"It suggests that once released, GE crops will stay where you put them. We all know this is nonsense.

Short-term vs long-term

Ms Fitzsimons said the report lacked long-term vision and leadership, and focussed on what the Commission perceived as short-term economic benefits of adopting GE instead of dealing with the long-term risks.

"While the report recognises that the technology is unpredictable and risky, the Commission then shows an incredible faith in the technology, assuming that it will eventually become safe.

Ms Fitzsimons said the Royal Commission has assumed an economic advantage exists for GE exports, although there is no evidence for this, and has attached little economic importance to our growing organics industry, worth over $110 million by the end of this year, or to our clean green image which benefits all food exporters.

"The Commission has fallen into the fear trap, and has accepted the argument that New Zealand has to embrace this newest technology or we will be left behind economically, despite the fact that we are a primary producer and that almost all our markets are demanding GE-Free food."

Ms Fitzsimons said the lesson learnt in the last century with technologies such as DDT, nuclear power, CFC's and fossil fuels is that harm to people and the environment can take decades to surface.

(Continued) GE and organics

"The report states that GE and organics can co-exist, even though the whole organics industry told the Commission this was impossible, and organic producers in the US have had to admit recently that their produce is contaminated with GE.

"The Commission also recommended the use of terminator-type technology and buffer zones to protect organics and conventional agriculture from genetic pollution.

"We know that buffer zones don't work. Terminator technology, which makes seeds sterile, has been roundly rejected in the rest of the world because of its ethical and economic implications - especially for farmers.

Where to now?

Ms Fitzsimons said the report chickened out on the hard questions.

"The Commission passed the buck on ethical issues to the Toi te Taiao, the new Bioethics Council. It's also passed the buck on deciding whether to go ahead with the first commercial release of GE crops to the Minister for the Environment.

"The Commission has not directly addressed the Treaty of Waitangi obligations of the Crown in relation to GE."

"I predict the first application for commercial release will spark an unprecedented number of submissions from the public.

"The fight is not over - it will be up to the Government now to decide whether New Zealand should build on its current GE-Free status, or buy into the fear mentality.

"I hope they will show the kind of leadership that they did on the nuclear issue, and choose a clean, green future over a risky and uncertain future in GE."

ENDS

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