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GM Moratorium Letters To The PM

GM Moratorium Letters To The PM

Subjects a.. Letter to PM from NZ Association of Scientists b.. Letter to the Prime Minister from the Royal Society of New Zealand

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Letter to PM from NZ Association of Scientists


10 September 2001

Rt. Hon. Helen Clark

Prime Minister

Parliament Buildings

Wellington

Dear Prime Minister

It is with increasing concern that Council of the NZ Association of Scientists notes the escalating response of the Greens, GE-free NZ and the disaffected protest movement to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. In addition, a disturbing trend in Government thinking is becoming evident in public statements made by Government Ministers regarding a possible 2-5-year moratorium on GMO release, and to GM crops and animals compromising New Zealand's image as a food producing nation.

Of particular concern is the campaign of misinformation, innuendo, emotion and threatened civil disobedience that underpins the anti-GE position on GMO field trials and release. In rejecting the findings of the Royal Commission, GE-free NZ and the Greens seek to relitigate these issues from scratch, discarding the wealth of scientific evidence in the Report that led to the recommendations. The results of the many field trials conducted in NZ since 1988, and the scientific information available worldwide are ignored in favour of an ideological position based on speculative scenarios rather than scientific knowledge.

The central issue in the public arena is whether NZ becomes GMO-free or not. There is now little opposition to most GM health products, laboratory-based research in containment and GM-labelled processed foods.

The wisdom of delaying the introduction of GM crops by imposing a legally-binding 2-5 year moratorium must be questioned. Such a moratorium would preclude any further evaluation of environmental effects through field trials and conditional release, and would therefore effectively establish a GMO-free New Zealand for that period. This would have a detrimental effect on those animal and plant sciences that use GM technologies and would have a negative impact on the scientific workforce and on parts of the economy. Furthermore, progress towards a Knowledge Economy would be compromised by rejecting a large body of knowledge on GM organisms in the environment (see appended information).

Council of NZAS wishes to send a strong and unanimous message to you as Prime Minister, and to members of your Government in support of the recommendations of the Royal Commission which proposed a cautious case by case approach to GMO release based on the evidence considered. We endorse the Royal Commission's supportive comments about the appropriateness of the regulatory framework.

Yours sincerely

Dr Mike Berridge

President

NZ Association of Scientists

Cancer Society Senior Research Scientist

Malaghan Institute of Medical Research

cc Hon Pete Hodgson, Hon Michael Cullen, Hon Jim Anderton, Hon Annette King, Hon Marion Hobbs

Supporting information:

Reversibility of GMO release

Evidence presented before the Royal Commission does not support the view that GMO release is irreversible, one of the repeated claims of the anti-GE movement. Last year a large-scale 5-year trial of the effects of 4 GM crops on the environment was initiated in the UK (Nature, 412: 760, 2001) and this follows a 10-year study on the survival of adjacent GM and non-GM crops. That study showed that when GM crops (maize, sugarbeet, oilseed rape and potatoes) are grown adjacent to their non-GM counterparts then left to compete with weeds in the environment, GM crops died out prior to the non-GM crops and all but non-GM potatoes were overgrown within 4 years (Crawley et al, Nature 409:682, 2001). This evidence shows that these domesticated crop plants, whether GM or not, do not survive in the wild. In addition, large domesticated GM farm animals such as sheep and cattle can hardly be considered to be irreversibly released or a threat to the environment even if they do produce a human protein in their milk. In another example, live GM cholera vaccine was inadvertently used in NZ for many months, but this vaccine is incapable of long term survival in the wild. These examples and many others emphasise the need to consider the release of each GMO on its merits as recommended by the Royal Commission.

Coexistence

Coexistence of GM and non-GM crops and more particularly, GM and organic crops continues to be a major bone of contention, although manageable by physical methods and sterile technologies. Again, the degree of the problem is dependent on the particular crop. Throughout the world, 44 million hectares of GM crops are being grown and in each of the countries involved, viable organics industries coexist. Consumer demand for organics is based on the false premise that organic crops have health benefit over conventional and GM crops. This has never been proven and the health benefits of organic foods remain to be demonstrated.

GM is a Green technology

GM is a very environmentally friendly “green” technology that uses natural raw materials as a starting point to address human and environmental problems. Nature itself has already invented the genes and biological processes that underpin GM. From a philosophical viewpoint, GM increases genetic variation in a very targeted way and so explores opportunities that nature has not tried, or in some cases has tried and rejected. Contrary to belief, generating a GM plant is an exceedingly difficult task that takes many years to produce and test and invariably produces a product that is less robust than the parental counterpart (see above).

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Letter to the Prime Minister from the Royal Society of New Zealand

Dear Prime Minister,

The Royal Society of New Zealand fully supports the findings of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification.

The Report contains a reasoned analysis of the scientific, ethical and cultural issues and its analysis is clear and unequivocal. The Commission's work has attracted considerable international attention; New Zealand has been seen to take a leadership role in dealing with the difficult problems posed by advances in GM technology in a democratic manner.

We have grave concerns that this careful and painstaking process, involving months of consultation with interested groups, is now being undermined through the circulation of material that significantly distorts the evidence heard, and by the attention being given to the protest actions of some groups. Worse, New Zealanders are receiving some serious misinformation. Many of our members feel very frustrated at seeing these emotive distortions and untruths circulated, and in the coming months the Royal Society will be inviting debate to clarify these issues.

The Royal Society is not part of the business community and is independent from Government. It takes its role of providing expert advice to Government and to the New Zealand public very seriously. When it prepared its submission to the Royal Commission, it took into consideration the social, cultural and ethical issues, as well the scientific evidence. We do not take the view that "science knows best", but we do strongly believe that decisions should be based on the best information available and should take into account the views of the whole community. The Commission did just that.

We urge you to give the highest possible weight to the Royal Commission's findings in coming to your Government's decision regarding GM policy and legislation. This letter will be circulated to Royal Society members who will have the opportunity of signing their names to it, and to the media, so that the New Zealand public will be quite clear as to our position.

Sir Gil Simpson

Professor Paul Callaghan

Dr Steve Thompson

Cc Ministers, MPs


ENDS

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