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Govt Warned “Find Unique NZ Strategy For Biotech"

Government Warned “Find Unique New Zealand Strategy For Biotech"

The Minister of Agriculture, Jim Sutton will receive a warning today that the government risks damaging the economy if it fails to define a vision for biotechnology in New Zealand that suits existing community values, economic strengths and the global market position of New Zealand.

The warning has the backing of a coalition of businesses, scientists and medical practitioners, organic producers, consumer-groups and environmentalists. They are concerned that the international biotechnology lobby is dominating the government's policy on science and technology to a point where it will be detrimental to the national interest.

Of particular concern is the proposal from the biotech-industry for 1% general GM contamination even in organic foods. This policy would deny any consumer choice and destroy export opportunities for all foods produced in New Zealand that are currently 'GM-free'.

Representatives from groups supporting this coalition are requesting an urgent meeting with the Minister to discuss how industry, government agencies, the new Bio-Ethics Council and wider stakeholders can work together. The joint declaration (BELOW) is being issued to coincide with a 2-day biotechnology conference in Auckland, urging the government to develop a strategic vision for modern biotechnology that reflects national values such as those identified by the Royal Commission on GM, and protects our clean-green exports and tourism image.

“Biotechnology is one part of the government’s policy for economic development, but without the right regulation and guidance the biotech-industry risks turning a would-be boom into ' bust ' by damaging our existing strengths," said Brand consultant Jon Carapiet, a spokesperson for GE-Free NZ.

"1% GM contamination, even in organic produce means there will be no consumer choice", said Seager Mason, from Bio-Gro. "Allowing contamination as part of the government’s biotechnology strategy points towards a disaster for both the conventional and organic agricultural sectors of the New Zealand economy."

The group members are also critical of the line-up of speakers at the conference which indicates the biotech lobby are excluding alternative voices like those of independent scientists advising caution, and the views of consumers themselves. The conference key note speaker is Dr Peggy Lemaux from the US Dept. of Agriculture who will talk about “the regulatory environment and changing public opinion in the US". However her message may already be out of date.

"Only in recent weeks have the Royal Society in the UK, and the US National Research Council warned about failures in the regulation controlling biotechnology in food-applications and farming. We must learn the lesson. The risk is from government bowing to pressure from the biotech- industry, and in the process putting other business and New Zealand's market-image under threat." said Dr. Meriel Watts from the Soil and Health Association.

The list of other conference topics includes 'managing the impacts of public opinion' and 'challenging public misconceptions', but there is already clear evidence the market for Biotech products is limited by the global consumer trend to accept some uses but not other applications such as GM food.

The Coalition members say it is vital the government ensure the biotech companies and Crown Research Institutes undertake work that suits New Zealand. But there is already concern that this is not happening. ERMA is currently considering the AgResearch proposal for ten years of open-field experiments with cows containing a mixture of human, animal and bacterial genes.

"How is it that a lack of a cohesive policy has led to a situation where foreign investment and public money is being used to gamble with animals vital to our economy? This is a high-risk strategy for our reputation. Why isn't New Zealand funding more appropriate research into how to mass-produce proteins in tissue-cultures rather than in the cows and sheep we sell for food?" said Mr Carapiet.

Doctors and scientists are also supporting the coalition's warnings for government to address the huge ethical issues of biotechnology. The government’s proposal to allow the germline genetic engineering of human beings by approval from the Minister of Health could open up a dangerous path to eugenics- something abhorrent to most New Zealanders.

"We are calling for the government to ban the genetic engineering of human beings in the HSNO Amendment Bill. Ethics must be part of the biotechnology strategy for the future”, said Tremane Barr of Groundswell.

Seager Mason, Bio-Gro
Dr. Meriel Watts, Soil and Health
Assc.Prof. Peter Wills, Physicians & Scientists for Responsible Genetics
Jon Carapiet, GE-Free NZ (in Food and Environment)
Tremane Barr, Groundswell

ATTACHED- The text of The Joint Declaration.
A list of signatories:-

Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association
Soil and Health
Physicians & Scientists for Responsible Genetics
Safe Food Campaign
GE-Free NZ (in Food and Environment)

Text of THE JOINT DECLARATION 6 March 2001

To Hon Jim Sutton, Minister for Biosecurity, Agriculture, Trade Negotiations
Hon Pete Hodgson - Minster Science and Technology
The Prime Minister, Rt Hon Helen Clark
The Rt Hon Jim Anderton- Minister for Economic Development

We the undersigned respectfully request the Government to develop a Strategic Vision for biotechnology which is independent of industry vested-interests and based on respect for the unique values, economic opportunities and ecosystems of Aotearoa New Zealand.

We are concerned that a lack of regulation and strategic guidance to industry may result in inappropriate investment in projects that can harm our economic and cultural well-being. This will also redirect funds and efforts away from innovations that better-suit our clean-green image, culture, sustainability, international marketing opportunities in tourism and exports of organic and conventionally-produced foods.

We request the following be the subject of urgent consideration by government and included in policy:

Given the need to protect New Zealand's existing strengths and marketing assets, and given the international market trends and significant scientific uncertainty, the New Zealand Biotechnology Strategy should be predicated on the non-release of GMOs into our environment and agriculture for the foreseeable future.

Given the accrual of private profits from use of biotechnology, all liability for damage caused by such uses should rest with the user who should be required to supply adequate scientific evidence of risk assessment to allow private insurance as a prerequisite for approval.

Given the Shared Values identified by the Royal Commission, and its recommendation to give effect to the Tiriti o Waitangi, the New Zealand Biotechnology Strategy should encourage the ethical application of biotechnology without causing irreversible contamination of the environment. These applications must respect human rights to choose, community values and standards for socially-responsible business.

The Royal Commission recommended a Bio-Ethics council be established to help guide government policy and regulation of biotechnology applications. It is vital that industry vested interests and international trade agreements to which New Zealand is a signatory are not allowed to damage the wellbeing of other nations or our own national integrity, including our marketing opportunities, and do not undermine the shared values based on: the uniqueness of Aotearoa/New Zealand; the uniqueness of our global heritage; sustainability; being part of the global family; the well-being of all; freedom of choice; and participation

As a matter or urgency we would like to meet with you to discuss how an appropriate vision for biotechnology can be developed by government to the mutual benefit of those using ethical biotechnology applications, other sectors of industry and commerce, tangata whenua, and the wider community.
Seager Mason, Bio-Gro
Dr. Meriel Watts, Soil and Health
Assc.Prof. Peter Wills, Physicians & Scientists for Responsible Genetics
Jon Carapiet, GE-Free NZ (in Food and Environment)
Tremane Barr, Groundswell
David Wright, Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association in New Zealand Inc.
Alison White, Safe Food Campaign

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