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Taxpayers should not pay the price of GE stuff ups

21 July 2004

Taxpayers should not pay the price of GE stuff ups

Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says New Zealand is now paying the price of the Government failing to heed her party's earlier calls to sort out who is liable for GE contamination.

MAF is considering relaxing New Zealand's 'zero tolerance' of GE contamination in imported crop seed after maize seed with a slight GE content slipped past a since-decertified testing laboratory. Under the Biosecurity Act growers and distributors can hold MAF liable for the costs of contamination. The Green Party has long argued that liability for the costs of cleaning up such GE biosecurity failures must rest with those who have caused the contamination, not with affected farmers or the public. The Sustainability Council of NZ today said seed companies have the technology to check for GE content.

"Zero tolerance means that if strict testing finds any level of contamination, it is out," said Ms Fitzsimons, the Green Party's Genetic Engineering Spokesperson. "The concept accepts that the best testing will occasionally miss very low levels and that is unavoidable. This is current policy and that is how it should stay.

"This proposed allowance of some level of GE contamination is simply MAF trying to avoid the costs of compensation and clean up.

"It must be remembered that this whole situation has only arisen because Biogenetic Services didn't do its job properly. It is absurd and unfair for the taxpayer to have to compensate growers for their losses when a testing lab didn't stick to the rules.

"Liability has got to be sheeted home to those who should be protecting farmers by taking more care, not the taxpayer. If labs will not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of their analyses liability must rest with the patent holder for the GE contaminant.

"Some firms are developing a competitive advantage round the purity of their product by taking the precautions necessary to meet a zero level of tolerance. They should not have such an asset taken away from them through the setting of an allowable level of contamination just because others companies have not been as careful.

"Most of all, New Zealand's clean, green marketing image is only meaningful and can only continue to be realised if it is built on having the tightest GE rules in the world, which includes having an unambiguous liability regime. We must hang on to our trading advantage, which will only increase in value as consumers around the world continue to turn away from GE in favour of real, natural food.

"New Zealand will pay the environmental and economic cost of GE liability continuing to be unresolved," said Ms Fitzsimons.


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