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Robert Mann - GE Letter To Members Of Parliament

What To Do About The Royal Commission

Dear MPs,

Having received no response to the memo below, I am now copying it (with some personal parts removed) to my MP and some others who have shown some interest in the formation of policy for control of gene-tampering.

The nation stands on the brink of a colossal blunder, an irreversible loss of opportunity for profit and health.

You can safely assume that any private meetings with PR agents for gene-jockeys will be liberally strewn with deceit. I must advise you to distrust Rolleston M.B. I would be glad to answer to the best of my ability any particular questions you may have.

As I have not been able to ascertain all the Maori MPs' email addresses, I would be very grateful if you could copy this to any colleagues who don't receive it direct from me.

Rt Hon Helen Clark MA MP
Prime Minister
Parliament Bldgs
P B Wellington

Dear Helen,

I am proferring my brief advice on what to do about the report of the Royal Commission.

Despite what the IBAC tells you, gene-tampering is in some cases dangerous, capable of creating unprecedented hazards some of which can multiply to unforeseeable extents as novel pests or pathogens.

The pop essay below, comparing the two royal commissions I've proposed, will briefly give you my perspective on Eichers' travesty. It is an appalling waste of a good opportunity to lead the world. We have been badly let down. I confess embarrassment at the lame performance of Randers; that a child of the great Sir Charles Fleming FRS could betray science as Jean has done - with no possible excuse of not understanding the technicalities - is quite tragic; and the enormous concentration on 'Maadi' compared with science was a significant waste of official resources. As an indirect result of all the informal time-wasting, one of the few independent scientists who really knows about testing GE-food, Dr Pusztai from Aberdeen, was confined to a 20min presentation.

The attached note by an American lawyer who participated in the RCGM proceedings is good as far as it goes, and exemplifies the status that Eichers' travesty will sooner or later be allotted by history. The RCGM will not command respect, so any government that rejects Eichers' permissiveness will soon gain, not lose, respect.

I draw your attention particularly to the quiet setting-aside of oaths. This almost furtive move by Eichers drastically degraded the utility of the inquiry. He should be asked why he did it. As you might expect, I intend to write about the RCGM in more scholarly publications than the essay below; for this purpose I would be very grateful to learn the answer to this question when you have gleaned it.

Also attached is my main statement to the Royal Commission. They suppressed this, while claiming all statements were on their website. Some far briefer statements were also suppressed for many months, e.g. the 4-page statement by Dr Ann Bell who served many years on Geo Petersen's 'Interim' assessment group for GE field-trials. The RCGM failed to make use of their powers of subpoena, and were certainly not interested in hearing from myself (the senior NZ scientific critic of GE from the time of its invention, with some record in technology assessment as you're aware).

What To Do?

I wish to be as practical and constructive as possible. Despite the persistent fog of PR-befuddling, properly-contained lab expts are not the issue (given honest implementation of the RCGM recommendation 6.2); uncontained crops & animals, and ill-contained field trials, are the issue. If field trials are allowed to continue with anything like the grossly permissive ERMA rubber-stamping to date, let alone the more dangerous "conditional release" rort, New Zealand will have passed up irrevocably a very real opportunity for improved export earnings from expansion of organic agriculture. No authority agrees with Eichers' outlandish doubletalk of coexisting organic & gene-jiggered agricultures. Our future is one way or the other - and fortunately, the GE-free route is not only healthier but also more profitable. Apples from the 17 Hawkes Bay organic apple-orchardists, fetching $37/case in 1999, are now bringing those growers $80/case. The apple is among the most difficult of foods to grow without pesticides & fungicides, but we have been doing so for years; at this rate, we can grow far more organic food. This, not the gambling of gene-tampering, is the only safe & profitable way forward.

Threats to the Dairy Industry

The Dairy Board allocated $150M for the half-decade 2001-04 for gene-tampering R&D. Their chief scientist, Dr Kevin Marshall, has refused to give me anything in writing on this, but he did show the NZ Dairy Workers Union annual confab 2000 in Hastings some headings - sequencing ryegrass DNA, etc; most of this expenditure appeared to be offshore. Marshall has now set up in business with Gluckman. Peas under walnut shells could fall thru cracks during 'merging' of the Dairy Board - could expand the flow of money to those two fanatical advocates of gene-splicing. I am unaware of any worthwhile projects they may have in mind.

The diary industry is in the front line of attempts at mammalian gene-tampering, so you may be glad to know the NZDW Union uses me as a consultant, and it is on their behalf that I am to observe the "World Dairy Summit" next month. I only hope you keep well informed. If Dr Knedler is still in EIB she could be more suitable than most to monitor these capers. I fear Jim Anderton's staff may be - so far - 'snowed' by PR from gene-jockeys who rarely distinguish fact from fantasy.

'Contained' expts

Eichers made several good recommendations, e.g. the already-mentioned 6.2 for a review of regulations on 'contained' gene-splicing. Practitioners complained to the RC that low-hazard expts are too difficult and too expensive to get rubber-stamped by an ERMA that rarely inspects any of the labs. I agree with this complaint. The answer is not only to streamline those low-risk applications somewhat, but also:- * stop ERMA profiteering, * institute sceptical inspections instead of self-approval by the lab's own safety officer, * set up a balanced review cttee on the regulations for 'contained' gene-splicing expts, as recommended by Eichers, and * create a proper system of educating those who handle biohazards.

GE-food

The two most important lines of evidence on this are grossly misrepresented by Eichers. The Showa Denko tryptophan is perhaps the most important case - even if not conclusive. See my brief article http://www.i-sis.org/tryptophan.shtml for a start; also I attach, with approval of my co-authors, a more thorough review submitted to a medical journal and confided in yourself & your immediate advisers (you know how these journals feel about MSS not yet pubd, so please keep this confidential). The Showa Denko killings & maimings imply that even highly (>99%) purified natural foods from gene-jiggered organisms can sometimes be unforeseeably toxic owing to deviant metabolism provoked by the radically novel processes of genes-insertion.

Therefore, even purified materials such as lecithin should not be permitted as food additives if made from gene-tampered organisms - at least until thorough testing such as as not yet been done. Labelling (Kitschley's pseudo-solution) is worse than useless.

The other most important evidence on GE food, the Pusztai/Ewen report in The Lancet, suggests that a whole GE-food such as a potato can in some cases be seriously toxic.

I would be glad to cooperate with your staff in any level of detail you may wish regarding the recommendations of the RC. Meanwhile with deep conviction I urge you to change the course of New Zealand's policy on gene-tampering: insist on much more caution with this most dangerous technology. I am sure you do not wish to go down in history as a stooge of Gluckman and his fanatical ilk. More importantly, the time is ripe for a world-leading genuinely green stand on this, the ultimate conservation issue.

Conveniently, political shrewdness aligns in this matter with justice & wisdom. Seize the time!

With kind regards,

as ever

Bob

P.S. I would be grateful if you'd let me know when this has reached you.

A TALE OF TWO COMMISSIONS

Public inquiries into controversial technology have a mixed history in New Zealand. Having proposed in 1973 a public investigation of nuclear power, I was then sufficiently encouraged by the proceedings of the Royal Commission on Nuclear Power that in 1977 I put forward a similar idea regarding the then nascent recombinant-DNA technology - commonly called
genetic engineering (GE) - for splicing genes from unrelated organisms & viruses to create novel organisms that could not come to exist naturally. The NZ Association of Scientists promoted this proposal for a full public inquiry; but GE enthusiasts had a few keen allies in Parliament, notably Bill Sutton (Jim's brother), and GE evaded public scrutiny.

Two decades later, the Labour party promised to set up, within 100 days of being elected, a Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. This promise was broken as the Minister for the Environment Ms Marian Hobbs (who had not claimed any environmental interests, on the Labour website during the election campaign) negotiated secretly with who knows whom.

The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification was finally established on 8 May 2000: long-serving Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, Jean Fleming Ph.D, Jacqueline Allan M.B, and the Rt Rev Richard Randerson. Thus a gene-tamperer features, but no scientist suspected of harbouring reservations about GE. A pro-GE staffer, Ms Beale, was transferred to the RCGM staff from the ERMA - the Environmental Risk Management Authority which in 23 decisions on GM field trials had issued 23 approvals. The Commission refused to accord any individuals status as legal persons to participate in its hearings; this exclusion restricted the supply of informed cross-examination.

Most shockingly, oaths were not required. Witnesses were thus not under threat of gaoling for perjury if they lied; neither were they privileged from defamation suits for what they said on the "witness" stand. Thus the main reasons for setting up a Royal Commission, as opposed to less formal inquiries, were quietly flagged away for no apparent reason. The Commission was severely handicapped in its ability to get at the truth. Who decided on this inferior approach?

Instead, time & money were allocated to 14 informal meetings - a flak-catching process of which the Commission had little duty to take notice. Members of the public were given 3min to express themselves. A great deal of time-wasting repetition is inevitable in such a process, while the 'formal' hearings had time only to skim lightly over the scientific details which are the basis for grave concerns over some types of GM (as can be seen at http://www.psrast.org).

Their very first hearing was a secret ceremony for Maoris only (at Ohinemutu). In depressingly predictable PC trendiness, the RCGM also organised 40 informal Maori meetings. As a result, their 'formal' hearings were severely curtailed so that some important questions have not been permitted in cross-examination because of "lack of time". Experts Arpad Pusztai & Stanley Ewen from Aberdeen - among the world's few experimenters testing GM food on animals - were granted only 20 min each to present their findings. This extreme restriction must be contrasted with the enormous amounts of time allocated to the extensive informal public meetings from Bluff to Whangarei, and the even more numerous special Maori meetings.

The Commission procured special briefing papers early on, which were not available for criticism. When later put on the RCGM website they turned out to contain falsehoods - no great surprise in view of the known attitudes of the selected authors.

The Commission's advisory counsel, Brendan Brown QC, repeatedly failed to acknowledge written inquiries and was later quietly replaced for no stated reason.

The Commission's website (http://www.gmcommission.govt.nz) has been unsatisfactory in some ways. Submissions critical of gene-tampering have not been made so readily available on the RCGM website as those repetitiously promoting it. Both longer examples such as mine, and some important very brief examples, have been suppressed. The RCGM 'logo', a Maorified double helix, cost me 20ç to receive - sent to me by the Commission staff unsolicited - as it took 20min to download (it was a 7MB M$W file - nearly as big as the whole final RCGM CD-ROM report!). What it cost as a fee to some consultant has yet to be revealed.

Some inquirers found the Commission staff unhelpful and even rude. Complaints to the ostensible staff chief evoked no action. PR operatives appeared to dominate the staff. Ms Beale returned to the ERMA in early February, but not before a lot of harm had been done to the Commission's effectiveness and credibility.

The media did not report the hearings much. Of the tiny time given to such reporting, most was frittered away on prior announcements of a general nature and then bland outlines of what witnesses talked *about*, rather than attempts to report the significance of evidence or the impact of such cross-examination as was permitted. Veronika Meduna of RadioNZ was the mistress of this clever time-wasting method.

The large fraction of the RCGM time given over to informal talk is still more regrettable when one realises that even the "formal" hearings were conducted without benefit of oaths. It is not clear whose big idea it was to abolish the potential for prosecuting liars. The Royal Commission on Nuclear Power, chaired by former president of the Court of Appeal Sir Thaddeus McCarthy, required oaths; very few lies were told in its hearings. Let us pause to honour this famous judge who recently died at 94.

A further difficulty for the public is that the chairman's promise in his opening statement (Wellington, 7 Aug 2000) to conduct formal hearings in Christchurch and Auckland was soon cancelled. The obvious result must be to increase difficulties & expenses for would-be participants who live far from the capital. Under pressure he conducted a couple of short-notice sessions in Auckland, and then on very short notice in Christchurch. This mucking around created needless difficulties.

The government allocated for the RCGM nearly $5M, later augmented to $6.2M; but no help was made available to any public-interest groups. Lately the Commission showed signs of difficulty in getting rid of all this money: they announced 20 free youth trips to Wellington, selected on the basis of children's 500-word responses to the essay topic "What future does genetic modification have in New Zealand?" - forecasting, rather than moral assessment.

The Commission was initially required to report by 1-6-01and used this as an excuse to insist that some speakers must be cramped for time. However, the Prime Minister's formal statement in Parliament on 13-2-01 said not 'June' but 'this year', which was a hint that an extension was to be given as had been openly offered by Ms Hobbs and was of course later done (to the end of July).

The extra time was, so far as one can see, mainly used for the commission's private deliberations and writing. What else could be done with extra time? One threat was that the Commission would permit lawyers for the GM trade to lodge 'rebuttal evidence' which would not be subject to cross-examination. These lawyers had to a considerable extent declined to cross-examine the main experts called by critics of GM; but then they tried to bring in assertions contradicting them, insulated from testing. Instead of being argued in a public hearing and reported, this unjust concept was the subject of more private negotiations. That a former Chief Justice would contemplate such a procedure is unaccountable.

This is all very disappointing compared with the Royal Commission on Nuclear Power.

One obvious difference is that the two decades in between have allowed hundreds of people in NZ to get money (at least $120M in public funding) from gene-tampering, or hope to do so from investment, whereas very few had any financial reason to promote nuclear power before Sir Thaddeus's inquiry in effect stopped the NZ Electricity Dept's nuclear programme.

Also one must acknowledge the sordid burgeoning of the depraved trade of commercial propaganda during the 1980s and 1990s, with the result that today almost every significant utterance from the GM-promotors has been 'spinned' by mercenary deceivers. These PR agents have become much bolder, even lying to the RCGM, whereas the manufacturers of nuclear reactors left the promotional role at the RCNP hearings to the local advocates (NZED and parts of the DSIR).

A further handicap is the ascendancy of wimminsLib as a political ideology. Attention-craving wimminsLib politicians, notably Bunkle and Kedgley, have been put to the fore by the media, especially Fiona Hill on Radio NZ, giving the public distorted information because these politicians lack the understanding of the topic which is needed to convey a balanced account. Thus, discussion of a main threat to the biosphere is hampered by the dominant ideology of WimminsLib. Of course, anyone who has the hardihood to point out that these empresses lack clothes is routinely insulted by the accusation of being anti-women.

The dismal contrast between the two Royal Commissions shows that the notion of a full independent public inquiry has been drastically degraded. If the committees of Parliament had been greatly strengthened meanwhile, this would not be so worrying.

Gene-tampering has, to date, killed only a hundred or so people and maimed only a few thousand, so far as we yet know. But it has enormously greater potential than that to harm humans and ecosystems. Like nuclear power, it has become a technological and financial fad. How will it be brought under control?

One confusion I hope we can see thru is the contention of defeatist fumer C Wheeler, former president of the NZ Soil & Health Association, who says we have lost our opportunity to show the world an example of keeping gene-jiggered organisms out of the environment. The RCGM's recommendations do not change anything real; they are the start, not the end, of a democratic process in which citizens should be at their MPs as never before. I for one disagree that we have lost. We can again lead the world in technology assessment, as we did on nuclear power. In that previous matter, the public inquiry helped; this time it largely hinders, through deeply worrying corruption - but our political processes can still save for us a healthier, more prosperous GE-free future.

---


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