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Minister confirms GE policy vacuum

12 May 2004

Minister confirms GE policy vacuum

Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says the Government has admitted it has no policy on what should happen if GE maize is found in the current search or if farmers will be compensated.

In answer to questions from Green MPs in the House today, the Minister for the Environment said the presence of GE maize was "hypothetical" and she would wait to see if any was found before considering whether it should be pulled out or not and whether the farmers affected should be compensated. This follows Maf discovering a low level of GE contamination in seed previously cleared by a since decertified lab, seven tonnes of which were released for planting last year.

"Many government policies are designed to prepare or mitigate for 'hypothetical' situations of varying degrees of likelihood," said Ms Fitzsimons, the Green Party Spokesperson on Genetic Engineering.

"A policy is usually something you have in advance of a situation, so you know what to do when it arises, not something you make up at the point when something actually happens.

"Thanks to the Minister's honesty in the House today, we now know that only once it is discovered that GE plants are actually growing in the ground will a decision be made as to whether they should be pulled or not. But of greater concern amongst the Minister's disclosures is that no thought seems to have been given as to who should compensate farmers for GE maize that is destroyed.

"This goes to the crux of a still-very-live issue in the GE debate - who is liable for GE contamination? The Greens contend that farmers should be compensated for any GE-related losses by the biotechnology industry, not the New Zealand taxpayer.

"All of this also demonstrates that this is not a secure policy environment within which applications for the deliberate release of GMOs can be properly considered. If questions about compensation around accidental releases cannot be answered, how can the implications of premeditated commercial releases be assessed?

"Our questions in the House today remain unanswered: if any GE maize is to be pulled up, will there be compensation? And, if so, be whom? If it not to be pulled up, surely this is not a 'zero tolerance' policy? And, if that is the case, what is the policy?" said Ms Fitzsimons.


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