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Sandra Lee - GE Debate

Hon Sandra Lee Speech Notes
Speech During Snap Debate On The Report Of The Royal Commission On Genetic Modification

This Royal Commission on Genetic Modification has been a landmark inquiry of the greatest significance for New Zealand.

Never have the values of culture, identity and ethics come so forcefully to meet the interests of science, rationalism and business.

I am proud that the Alliance was the first party in this house--I don't want to quibble with my friend and colleague from the Green Party, and I acknowledge their contribution--but we were the party that called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Genetic Modification.

My colleague Phillida Bunkle’s two member’s bills, one calling for labelling and one calling for an inquiry were foremost in securing the Royal Commission.

It has not escaped my notice that the opposition parties who voted against having a Royal Commission have in the last couple of days welcomed the Commission’s report that they opposed having.

Unlike the opposition, the Alliance has been committed to allowing all New Zealanders to have a say on this issue. The enormity of the issue and the widespread public interest was demonstrated in particular by the submissions made by ten thousand New Zealanders and organisations the length and breadth of the country, the vast majority of which did not want a genetically engineered future.

I want to thank these people, and the many others who attended the hui and public meetings, for participating in this important process and adding their values and perspectives to the debate. The contribution of the public on this issue has been vital and has focussed the debate as well.

The Alliance is pleased that we have been able to secure a moratorium on field trials while the Commission has been deliberating. This was an essential component in our strategy to preserve opportunities.

It follows that we should now extend the moratorium until such time as the Government has made a policy response to the report. The Alliance will be advocating such a position.

There are many issues that have not been fully addressed by the Commission. Had the Commission been able to sit longer many of these could have been addressed. However we may have had an inquiry that continued ad infinitum. It has been important, to give respect to those people whose lives are affected by this issue on both sides of the fence, that we provide some certainty where we can, and signal where there is more work to be done.

The Alliance supports an ‘opportunities preserving strategy’ and indeed this was central to our submission to the Royal Commission. However the Commission’s recommendations do not provide all the answers as to how we might preserve all our opportunities while also having environmental release of GMOs. These issues need to be worked through further.

The Alliance is also concerned that the role of a Bioethics Council be given the weight it deserves and we will be working on clarifying this role further.

There are still issues to be resolved surrounding liability.

We will be seeking a system that ensures that those who create risk are also the ones who meet the costs when things go wrong.

The Alliance believes, as the Royal Commission has noted, that we can not yet be certain of the safety of a live genetically modified organism being released into our environment.

As the Prime Minister noted yesterday, the Alliance believes that New Zealand is not yet ready for the commercial release of genetically modified organisms into the environment, and indeed we may never be.

The Commission has noted that there is still a great degree of uncertainty about the science surrounding genetic modification and recommends greater analysis of the impacts on wider ecosystems.

The Commission also wishes to see more research into the social and economic impacts of genetic modification, particularly on our clean green export image, which the Alliance believes is paramount. Once this further research has been conducted, it may well be that the evidence compels us to prevent a commercial release, and it may not. Clearly decision making must be informed and the Commission has highlighted what we do know and what we don’t.

Either way the Commission has not given a green light to commercial release, but rather recommended further consideration of applications.

These applications will have to be examined within a much more comprehensive and rigorous framework.

The details of these criteria will clearly be extensive and will need to be worked through by the Coalition Government.

Environmental protection, meeting Treaty obligations, the position of cultural relationships and preserving economic opportunities are of the highest priority for the Alliance and we are committed to ensuring that the Government’s response to the Commission’s recommendations absolutely accord with these priorities.

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