Greens Go To Standards Authority Over Pamphlet
Party makes official complaint over pamphlet
The Green Party has complained to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board about what it says are pro-genetic engineering pamphlets being forced on supermarket shoppers.
Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said the action is one of many against the pamphlets, with party members this week taking part in a "week of action" against the pro-genetic engineering brochures.
The light-green-coloured pamphlets headed GM Foods - Answers to Your Questions, are part of a multi-national "global disinformation campaign", Ms Fitzsimons said.
"They are fundamentally pro-genetic engineering documents, where genetic engineers are in effect providing answers to their own questions, such as 'how can biotechnology help us', and `why do we need it'," she said. "The organic alternatives are completely ignored."
The pamphlet's foreword is written by Royal Society of New Zealand president Professor Sir John Scott, who has been one of this country's main advocates of genetic engineering.
"Last year in the middle of New Zealand's first genetic engineering hearings in Wellington his society hosted a pro-genetic engineering seminar in conjunction with the United States embassy," Ms Fitzsimons said. "The public presentation, at which American pro-genetic engineering lobbyist Sylvia B Rowe was speaking, was part-funded by one of the world's leading genetic engineers, Monsanto."
Note: Letter from Green Party Agriculture Spokesperson and Marlborough-based organic farmer Ian Ewen-Street to complaints board follows.
20th July 1999
The Secretary Advertising Standards Complaints Board PO Box 10675, Wellington
Dear Sir or Madam
Re: Grocery Industry Council brochure on Genetically Modified Food
I wish to make a formal complaint about the content of the attached brochure which was placed in my supermarket bag without consultation with me.
My complaint refers to the several sections of the brochure which I have underlined and numbered. These sections purport to give factual information, but actually are quite wrong and appear designed to be deliberately misleading. I will proceed in order through the numbered points:
1. The patronage of Prof Sir John Scott appears to be a clear indicator to the public that this brochure contains reliable, authoritative information. It fails to mention that Prof Scott is an outspoken advocate of genetic engineering.
2. Early farmers (and modern farmers for that matter!) certainly changed genes in their selective breeding process, but this process is only possible within species. Breeds are variations within species (e.g. all kinds of human races can inter-breed, but we cannot naturally exchange genes with alligators or trees or bacteria, which is what GE does) and the limit of inter-breeding is what defines a species. GE steps over this barrier into the unknown and the unknowable. It will be a cold day in hell before toads and potatoes routinely exchange genes.
3. To describe the successful outcome of millions of years of evolution as having "serious limitations" is a statement of stunning arrogance. I do not believe the Grocery Industry Council can in any way substantiate such a claim.
4. GE is not a "more sophisticated method of breeding". Breeding occurs only within species, not across species, as GE does. I believe that a scientist of the calibre of Prof Scott should reasonably be expected to understand this and refrain from supporting the dissemination of misleading information.
5. In terms of reduction of fuel use, I am not aware of any studies to verify such an allegation, but independent research is now showing clearly that chemical use is, in fact, rising as a consequence of GE production. Similarly, it is worth noting that, in tandem with its application to grow GE canola in the South Island, Monsanto has applied for the acceptable levels of Roundup residue to increase by a factor of 200 - that's not 200 percent, but two hundred times the previously acceptable limit. Their words and their actions are not congruent.
6. World hunger is not due to a shortage of food, but to an imbalance in the means of distribution of that food.
7. GE does not have a proven record of reducing chemical inputs. Quite the opposite in fact - its record is one of increasing chemical inputs.
8. Independent research actually shows that the average yield of GE crops is lower than conventional crops. Corn, sugar beet, canola and other crops studied in the USA show consistently lower productivity on average and many GE cotton crops have been absolute failures, leaving farmers to return to conventional seed sources.
9. This is a statement of hope rather than fact. The opposite may well be the truth and is, in all probability, the more likely outcome.
10. The opposite of this is true. Because the US and Canada already cannot export their GE crops to the EU, their markets to other parts of the world are collapsing. Already NZ is being targetted by foreign interests as a source of clean, green food for which they are prepared to pay high premiums. Organic exports are growing exponentially and are unable to meet the existing demand. Any steps to introduce GE crops to NZ would immediately destroy this burgeoning market. And where exactly would we export to if we did take the GE route?
11. This statement assumes that GE foods will pass the test of time. And if they don't, who pays? Certainly not the insurance industry - they have already made it quite clear that they will cover costs only for negligence and immediate loss of income, but not for any environmental damage which may result from the use of GE organisms.
12. Modern medicines do use GE and there is no real debate about their value. But, medicines are not food and are used in very specific cases and only after exceptionally rigorous testing. Using the example of medical uses for this debate is deliberately misleading.
13. The Monsanto tomato plant "Flavr Savr" has been an abject failure. Yields are down, they apparently taste awful and Monsanto has apparently withdrawn them from sale.
14. Once more the mis-information about pesticide use appears deliberate.
15. The actual experience of farmers using crops with pesticide resistance is that the insect pests have already developed immunity to the engineered internal pesticide and other external pesticides have had to be used. Once more the total use of chemicals has increased.
16. One of the major concerns of the European Union is that GE foods have been only superficially tested. The brochure statement is completely untrue. Evidence in the USA is that monarch butterflies eating GE crops have had a hugely increased (by 44% in one study) mortality rate. While clearly monarch butterflies are not human, the discovery that GE crops have serious negative consequences for animal species is a sobering thought.
17. There can be no "experience based guidelines" as the health concerns about GE foods are based on long term (intergenerational) time scales. As with thalidomide and DDT, we simply do not and cannot know the consequences for our children and grandchildren.
18. How on earth can people expressing ethical and health concerns be considered to be "special interest groups"?
19. GE production not only creates pollution by increased chemical use, the crops and animals themselves constitute pollution. The statement that agricultural practices will be "less polluting" is misleading.
20. How can GE crops be "monitored for unforeseeable environmental effects"? We can only measure those things that we are aware of and it is the unforeseeable effects which are of concern - if GE really does become a thalidomide or DDT or mad cow disease or dioxin scandal of the future, it will be far too late to do anything about it. Let us not forget that we are talking about life forms which can and do multiply by themselves with no input from humans. Once the GE genie is let out of the bottle, it can never be put back.
21. All GE foods are significantly changed - if they were not, why go to all the trouble to modify them in the first place? Independent research (remembering that virtually all research to date has been done by biotechnology companies like Monsanto or their acolytes) increasingly shows that modified foods are, well, modified.
22. The Ministry of Health, after a huge public outcry, instituted a four week consultation period and issued a questionnaire which was very directive in its questions and failed to give a balanced perspective. Further, the Ministry of Health is a government body and is therefore subject to the political whim of the government of the day; the four week consultation was absurdly short; and the directive questionnaire is highly likely to give skewed results.
23. The addresses given for more information provide only for supportive information, i.e. it is biased. A balanced view would also have included the email addresses of the Revolt Against Genetic Engineering, the Green Party, the Organic Products Exporters Group and perhaps some of the British media in light of the decision by virtually all British supermarkets to prohibit the sale of GE foods on public health grounds.
The greatest failing of the Grocery Industry Council brochure is the absence of perhaps the most salient feature of the whole GE debate. And that is that GE life-forms can be patented. And if they can be patented, they can be owned. And their rights traded. The whole underlying push for GE production is the ownership of life on earth and the windfall profits for the shareholders of the biotechnology companies. This debate is about profit and greed, not about feeding the world or reducing environmental impacts. This information is a serious omission from a brochure which is constructed to give the impression of a balanced, unbiased document.
I request that the Grocery Industry Council be instructed to remove its brochure from shops.
"Coniston" Kenepuru Head
RD 2 Picton
Ph/Fax 03-5777-593 or 03-579-8003