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Minister washes hands of GE food safety

17 March 2004

Minister washes hands of GE food safety

Green Party Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says Food Safety Minister
Annette King refused to answer in the House today whether New Zealand had
ever agreed to the current barriers to effective scientific scrutiny of
food safety information.

Scientific data on Monsanto's genetically modified Roundup-tolerant wheat
is only arriving in New Zealand next Monday, several weeks after initial
submissions to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) were called
and only seven days before they close.

FSANZ is then requiring scientists to make an appointment at a Wellington
office to view the single paper copy of the scientific data. Copies can
then be made but at a cost usually associated with the sale of information
for the viewer's benefit rather than as part of an open consultation
process.

"How can the New Zealand public have any faith in the safety assessment of
GE foods if the data is not truly open to independent scientific scrutiny?
All this appears to be a deliberate attempt to limit scientific
consultation on an GE application of global significance and suggests the
government's food standards authority is in the pocket of the
biotechnology industry," said Ms Fitzsimons, the Green Party's
Spokesperson on GE.

"Allowing only seven days to analyse important scientific data that is
relevant to a key environmental and political issue is a scandal. Why is
FSANZ colluding with Monsanto's agenda?

"The Minister's refusal to answer most of my questions today raises yet
again the issue of FSANZ status as a trans-national body. If the process
for this GE wheat application is being dictated from Australia there are
clear issues for New Zealand's sovereignty.

"FSANZ has said that they want comment in priority areas of the science
and food safety of the application. Even Monsanto's competitors will be
able to view the information at the office, so this is evidently not an
issue of commercial sensitivity.

"Yet the time and money required for independent scientists to visit
Wellington and the 20c-a-page copying fee for a "foot-high" document
certainly suggest that FSANZ is quietly trying to limit informed debate
and research while still appearing to be facilitating their democratic
responsibilities.

"It is ludicrous and plain wrong for the Minister to claim that the
information can not be put up on the Internet because it is too long. The
length is precisely why it should be provided online to scientists at
their places of work so they can more effectively cross-reference and
research the data's validity and implications.

Growers worldwide are refusing to plant GE wheat without a guaranteed
market. FSANZ approval would set a global precedent for a move that will
lead to the contamination of yet another staple food crop. The Green Party
last week called on New Zealanders to make submissions ahead of the 31
March cut-off.

Ends


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