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Third reading of the NOOM Bill

Third reading of the NOOM Bill, Tues Oct 14, 2003

Mr Speaker, I move that the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Amendment Bill, the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Amendment Bill (No2), the Medicines Amendment Bill (No2) and the Biosecurity Amendment Bill (No 2) be now read a third time.

Mr Speaker, I do this with pride, pride in a government that has worked through the issues over many years.

The legislation to allow the release of GMOs was passed in 1996.

The legislation we hope to pass today adds a series of safeguards, such as conditional release, into the mix of controls that ERMA can use.

In 1996, when I was still a school principal, I cannot recall any staffroom arguments about genetic modification. I certainly cannnot recall street marches or naked protests.


But, for all the lack of mass public concern, in our manifesto of 1999 the Labour Party promised a committee of inquiry/a Royal Commission into Genetic Modification. We wanted to check whether the HSNO Act had enough safeguards. We wanted advice.

Why choose a Royal Commission? A Royal Commission gives the government independent advice, having listened to arguments and tested assertions. In a rational society it is not enough to assert a risk or to assert a benefit without testing it. A Royal Commission is the highest body for hearing and investigation that we have available to us in New Zealand. Other mechanisms offer fewer opportunities for decision-makers to obtain and appreciate a full range of arguments, in place of untested assertions, or blatant misrepresentation, such as toads in potatoes or four-breasted women.

I am very much a rationalist, which is a drawback in the world of six-second sound bites, aggressive interviews and media hype. And decisions around GM need to be made with rational consideration.

That brings me to the moratoria, for there have been two of them. The science and agriculture community agreed to a voluntary moratorium for the life of the Royal Commission. It did not apply for any field tests or general releases. That voluntary moratorium ended in 2001.

The second moratorium on applications for general release was legislated for in 2002. The Royal Comission advised us in 2001 that we could proceed with GM releases straight away, but there were some improvements we could make. The Government set in place a time-bound moratorium to lift in October 2003, in order to make those legislative changes. We passed that legislation in 2002 before the election. The ending of the moratorium was known to voters

I wish to thank the biotechnology industry. From 2000 to 2003 there has been a real brake on that industry – a compulsory stop in fact – on its GM research. But this Bill does not mean that there will be an instant acceleration to 100 k.p.h.

This is a heavily regulated industry, far more so than any other country in the world – including countries in the European Union.

Mr Speaker, there were three ways NZ could have gone: ban work on GM in the field forever. (the Greenpeace plan) allow some work, but make that decision on a case-by-case basis. leave totally unregulated (how the early GM crop work has been done overseas.)

NZ has chosen the middle way, the cautious way – and this bill strengthens those precautions.

Like chemistry, like physics, like surgery, there are risks in genetic modification, but there may be benefits – and some claim benefits already: Improved soil health, through less ploughing to eliminate weeds. Less volume and less toxic pesticides used. New forms for the ingestion of medicines – using food. New pest controls – to attack possums or flystrike. Warning indicators for landmines or arsenic in water.

And yes, there are risks.

But how can anyone be so sure of risk that they deny others the opportunity of exploring possible benefits.

Galileo was hounded by the Church because his observations told him that the planets, including Earth, circled the Sun. That upset the then-current world views that the Sun and planets circled Earth, with man at the epicentre.

Are we so certain that we know everything about ecological change and adaptation? Could there be more that we do not know? Is it so terrible to ask questions, to test the hypotheses?

It would be terrible if in so doing, in testing the hypotheses, we endangered people. But in New Zealand we don’t. When it comes to food, any food on sale in New Zealand has had to undergo rigorous and robust safety testing.

People have a choice whether they eat GM food or not. Any GM food is labelled. There may be research work progressing on potatoes – but that does not mean that GM potatoes or any other GM fresh food will be on sale in NZ for maybe at least five years and then only after Food Safety Approval.

So New Zealanders will not be forced to eat GM food. They will have choice, when and if GM fresh food is ever offered for sale in NZ.

Organic growers want assurances that their crops will remain free of GMOs. And in this bill we provide for conditional release. The conditions set will take into consideration research findings on pollen drift, on foraging bees, including the 8km distance for bees asserted by a GE Free group today, in one press release I saw today.

Like the Royal Commission this Government believes that we can allow organic crops, conventional crops and GM plants/animals to co-exist. No one's rights have to be curtailed.

And may I remind the House, Mr Speaker, an application cannot be granted if risks outweigh benefits or if needed answers cannot be given.

Mr Speaker, In life there are people who say no. And there are people who say yes.

NZ needs to say yes NZ needs to do research NZ needs to add value to our bio-economy.

Without such growth, we will not be able to pay for environmental clean-ups, for education, for health improvements, for restorative justice, for public transport.

This is about growth and innovation About preserving choice About saying yes to opportunity About moving forward

This bill is about doing so with caution.

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