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New GE laws fundamentally flawed

New GE laws fundamentally flawed

The Government's new GE laws fall far short of protecting the public from the mistakes of genetic engineers, Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today.

The liability provisions in the Government's proposed amendments to the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, announced today, were particularly weak and disappointing, Ms Fitzsimons said. "A GE firm will only be liable for damage if they have deliberately broken the law, and you still have to prove their breach caused your problem. So if a new potato turns out to cause serious illness, no-one will be liable. If GE pollen drifts onto your organic crop and you lose your market, no-one is liable, as long as they followed the prescribed separation distances.

"If the Environmental Risk Management Authority gets it wrong and approves a GE release that damages someone, ERMA does not have to take any responsibility. The Government has decided that you, the public must bear this risk for the sake of encouraging the Biotech corporates to bring their products here."

The proposed new laws also allow companies to keep certain details of their GE process secret from the public, once again unfairly favouring the corporates over the public, Ms Fitzsimons said. "The public's right to know in what way a new organism will be engineered, so they can make intelligent submissions, is to be restricted to protect commercial confidentiality. We do not know to what extent until we see the fine print. But clearly it makes a mockery of public submissions and hearings on an application, if vital information about the nature of the genetic transformation is denied."

Ms Fitzsimons said it was also not encouraging that the enforcement and monitoring of the new rules was to be carried out by MAF Biosecurity. "These are the same people who have 'protected' us against varroa mite, painted apple moth, black widow spiders and a series of snakes, which enter the country every year."

Other concerning points include:

* The Government pressing ahead with conditional release of GE before the research recommended by the Royal Commission of Inquiry has been completed; including an ESR study of the risks of horizontal gene transfer (which is still more than two years away from completion); and a Treasury report on the economics of GE release.

* The Government has clearly not listened to the public- which has said overwhelmingly it does not want GE in field, food or environment.

* The Government knows that GE and non-GE crops cannot exist in the same country for long without thorough cross contamination, as has already occurred in the United States. But the Government has chosen to ignore that and condemn farmers of high-quality, high-price exports to a steady deterioration of their products and their prices.

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