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Why GE Release Is A Bottom Line - Fitzsimons

Why GE Release Is A Bottom Line
By Jeanette Fitzsimons, Green Party co-leader
June 05 2002

Last week, the Green Party's seven MPs signalled a fundamental change in the balance of power in the New Zealand Parliament, writes Green Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons. By signalling they would pull support from any Government that ended the moratorium on the release of GE, the Greens have signalled that this issue is more important than a chance of sharing coalition power or the maintenance of the Labour Party in power. Jeanette Fitzsimons explains why.

New Zealand is a unique place and we have the opportunity to create and control our own destiny. In the 1970s and 80s our opposition to nuclear power signalled that determination. Today the issue is Genetic Engineering.

Once again, New Zealand has the power to be a beacon of hope. My Green Party colleagues and I would rather not be in Parliament than support a Government that made the irreversible decision to let GE out of the lab and into our environment and food chain.

Late last month we made our position on the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (Amendment) Bill clear, by leaving the House directly after my speech on the third reading.

The Green Party's abstention on the Bill was based on principle and honesty, and so is our position on future support for a Labour-led Government after the next election. We have made it very clear, both to the Labour Party and to the voters, that any coalition agreement with Labour after the next election must include an agreement to stop the moratorium being lifted in October 2003.

The moratorium currently in place prevents the commercial release of genetically engineered organisms (including crops, animals and micro-organisms) into the environment. Human and animal live vaccines are exempted. The moratorium will automatically expire on 29 October 2003, because the Government has written that into law.

The people of New Zealand must understand that the Labour Party is currently committed to lifting the moratorium. The Labour Party does not support New Zealand's environment remaining GE-Free.

This is despite the fact that preserving our GE-Free environment would cement New Zealand's international reputation as a unique and special nation. Combined with our nuclear-free policy, a GE-Free reputation would give a real boost to the way we market ourselves so proudly to the rest of the world. One Hundred Percent Pure.

A startling new European Union study released last week found that organic farming will be forced out of production if GE crops are grown commercially. The report was so damning that top officials tried to hush it up.

The report is the result of two years of studies in Britain, France, Italy and Germany. The report found that organic farms will become so contaminated by genes from the new crops that they will lose their certification, or will have to spend so much money trying to protect themselves that they will be bankrupted. It also showed that if only one-tenth of a country is planted with GE crops, then keeping contamination at a level that would allow organic farming to continue would be "extremely difficult".

This report is absolutely compelling, and confirms the fears held by environmentalists, farmers and ordinary people in New Zealand. It shows that the Labour Government's plan to require buffer zones to try to protect organic crops is a waste of time, as many farmers have told them.

Once GE is commercially released into the environment, as it will be eventually if the moratorium is lifted next year, there is no going back. That's why we felt it necessary to make it a bottom line. For other issues, it is possible to negotiate "progress towards" Green Party goals. But on commercial release of GE, it's all or nothing.

I should point out here that Green Party is not opposed to science, as we are often accused of being. We are not opposed to gene technology. We recognise that gene technology can play a useful role in medical research, in the production of new medicines and can provide the knowledge to improve conventional breeding in agriculture.

The Green Party's strong stance on GE, doesn't mean that we are ruling out being a coalition partner, just that we are setting a bottom line for that relationship. If a successful coalition agreement could not be achieved, the Greens could still support Labour forming a Government while the moratorium remains in place. However any confidence and supply agreement would be void on the day that the moratorium was lifted.

At our conference on Queens Birthday weekend, our members unanimously backed the caucus on this decision.

It's my belief that telling the country our bottom line on GE before the election is the most honest use of MMP. We are not holding the Government or any future Government to ransom, we are just telling voters (two-thirds of whom support keeping GE in the lab) that this is an issue we will not roll over on.

Our message for the election is: if New Zealand wants a GE free future (and to keep GE in the lab), then New Zealanders need to vote Green. If, as Labour would have us believe, voters value short-term stability more than what is truly precious and unique about New Zealand, then they have that choice too - elect a majority Labour Government.

Some political commentators have accused the Greens of being 'the tail that wants to wag the dog' on this issue. But polls over the last year have consistently shown well over half of respondents are either opposed to GE being taken out of the lab or want further proof of its safety. The Greens are the only political party that represents their views.

If we get enough support, we believe Labour will have to listen. And we must make it clear, it is not a huge ask for the Government to extend the moratorium. Current research, and production of medicines in the lab would continue (as they are currently) under an extended moratorium.

The Greens are happy to take the ultimate test by campaigning on this issue at the general election. The fact that we have been open and clear about our position before an election date has even been set shows we are not playing silly games.

We are telling the public exactly where we stand on GE, and exactly how we plan to stand behind our words. Rather than being 'anti-democratic', we
are trusting to voters to decide on the future of GE in New Zealand.

ends


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