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How independent is the Sustainability Council?

The chairman of the Life Sciences Network, William Rolleston, has questioned the independence of the new Sustainable Council of New Zealand.

“The group brought forward the announcement of its agenda, just three weeks out from a general election, and after its organic farmer chairman rushed home early from a trip to Europe – this must throw into question the independence of such an organization,” he says.

The new pressure group, which is headed by Sir Peter Elworthy, has called for an extended moratorium because of concerns over GE trade risks, effects of GMOs on the environment and regulatory issues.

The council says that New Zealand runs the risk of alienating European markets if the moratorium is lifted and GMOs are released into the environment.

But Dr Rolleston says if the moratorium remains in place, New Zealand runs the risk of being dragged before the WTO for having non-scientific trade barriers.

“It is not nearly as simple as the Sustainability Council makes out. There are huge trade risks involved in not lifting the moratorium.”

Dr Rolleston also says that while the Council talks about the threat GE poses to the environment, the technology has huge potential benefits for the environment.

“In the US the use of GE technology has seen a massive drop in the use of pesticide, an increase in no-till sustainable agriculture, and increased yields which has enabled former agricultural land to be returned to wilderness.”

GE could be a valuable tool with which to help preserve New Zealand’s biodiversity, he says.

“We think the desired goal of sustainability is great. But we believe the best way to achieve this is the one advocated by the Royal Commission: to proceed with caution.”

Maintaining the moratorium would mean terrible uncertainty for New Zealand. “It will mean uncertainty for scientists, for developers and for industry,” Dr Rolleston says.

“The moratorium is political. It is a blunt instrument. It does not address the safety of the technology on a case-by-case basis.”

The Royal Commission maintained that co-existence was possible in New Zealand but Dr Rolleston believes the country needs to move on to a model of cooperation.

“There needs to be a choice in the range of farming systems for farmers. The moratorium does not maintain or increase choice. It reduces it.”

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