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The Interchurch Commission On Genetic Engineering

The Interchurch Commission On Genetic Engineering

Media Release for Immediate Issue (Issued 25 October 2001)


The Interchurch Commission on Genetic Engineering, which represents the Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches of Aotearoa New Zealand, has written to the Prime Minister expressing its view on how the Government should respond to the Royal Commission’s report on Genetic Modification. This is the text of the letter:

Dear Prime Minister

We are writing to you as the Interchurch Commission on Genetic Engineering. The Interchurch Commission represents the Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches of New Zealand. Throughout the process undertaken by Royal Commission on Genetic Modification we have been active in gathering input from members of the churches throughout New Zealand, in making submissions and in being present where possible at the Royal Commission hearings.

We wish to commend the report of the Royal Commission in principle, and to urge that the Government take account of the Royal Commission’s findings in coming to the Government’s decisions on the use of GM technology in New Zealand. We particularly approve the setting up of a Bioethics Council, and the proposal that grounds for the Minister’s call-in powers regarding any application to ERMA be extended to include “significant cultural, ethical and spiritual issues”.

We do not believe that a moratorium which bans field trials of genetic modification research in New Zealand outside the laboratory, and which has no purpose other than to prolong the time during which no research can take place outside the laboratory, would be in New Zealand’s best interests.

We do believe that a moratorium on the commercial release of GMOs would be advantageous if this is worked out in conjunction with the scientific community and is used to work on the recommendations of the Royal Commission. In particular, this time should be used to develop technologies to answer concerns raised e.g. how to prevent the spread of GM plants and seeds, and to respect the autonomy of organic farmers. A moratorium to allow time to put in place rules and regulations regarding commercial release, mediation processes, scientific technologies, research into social implications, liability requirements and to prepare and provide accurate information to all members of society would be useful at this stage.

We emphasise that a moratorium should be instituted as part of a defined plan to answer the concerns raised in the Royal Commission’s report and to act upon the recommendations therein.

The Interchurch Commission on Genetic Engineering does have particular concerns relating to the Royal Commission’s recommendations which should be addressed. The major concerns are:
1. The guidelines of the proposed Bioethics Council would not be enforceable. This places doubt on the effectiveness of such a body, and the Bioethics Council should have mandatory powers.
2. It is suggested that the Bioethics Council have one Maori member. This may be seen as tokenism and should be re-considered.
3. Liability issues have not been adequately addressed.
4. The cultural concerns regarding the transfer of human genes into higher animals will not be answered by using “synthetic human genes”. More negotiation and amelioration is needed.
5. The Royal Commission supported more risk assessment of GM foods before they are permitted for sale, but did not make any recommendations to ensure this takes place.


Yours sincerely

Interchurch Commission on Genetic Engineering

Dr Audrey Jarvis (Chairperson)
Dr Vivienne Burrows
Dr Chris Downs
Prof Grant Gillett
Rev. Greg Hughson
Ms Maree Pene

ENDS


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