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Biotech Strategy Judged by Actions not Words

Biotech Strategy Judged by Actions not Words

Government's 'good intentions' for biotechnology strategy to be judged by actions not words. Strategic Principles should mean no possibility for 'conditional release of GE'

The public will judge the government's response to 'consultation' on its biotechnology strategy by what it does in the next year, rather than the apparently well-meaning words in the consultation document. The challenge for the government is to protect the existence of GE-Free production within an ethical biotechnology strategy into the future.

However, despite signals in the document that the government has recognised the serious issues raised for civil society by the commercialisation of biotech products, there is little to rebuild confidence in the government intentions.

As well as having allowed ethical issues to be sidelined in recent ERMA approvals for GE cows, there is also concern that the government is being seduced by a casino-mentality of biotech speculation that threatens this country's existing Brand-equities and values.

" Helen Clark described herself as the 'Brand Manager' for New Zealand, but the document seems blind to developing our existing brand-equities. There is not one mention of using biotechnology to help develop advances for Organic agriculture. There is not one mention of preventing Maori knowledge from being stolen - rather the aim is to promote 'bioprospecting', " says Jon Carapiet for GE-Free NZ ( in food and environment).

"In one case study ( page 11) the Ministry praises the development of easiTrace, allowing overseas consumers to trace our meat-products right back to the farm it came from. Yet just last week feed-manufacturers revealed that neither they nor MAF have systems to prevent imported GE-feed seriously undermining our exports and market position.," says Mr Carapiet.

The document should also - in theory at least- spell the end of any plans for 'GM Conditional Release' if its guiding principles are to be taken seriously. 'Sustainable development' without compromising future generations, social equity, the environment and cultural wellbeing cannot be reconciled with control-systems like buffer zones which have failed overseas.

No conditional or unconditional GM release can be warranted when over 50% of New Zealanders- according to AgResearch's study published earlier this year- have no awareness of transgenics as a reality of biotechnology. " That is hardly informed consent", says Mr Carapiet.

But there are also alarming signals that basic human rights and peoples' much- hailed 'right to choose' will be sacrificed to a push for profit. Comment on Page 23 signals an 'informed' , inclusive approach to decision -making about its uses and take into account factors beyond those of individual choice."

" Once again the government seem intent to leave ethical and cultural issues floating in a regulatory limbo. The Bio Ethics Council must be given a legislated role that is properly integrated into the regulatory process, " says Mr Carapiet.

How the system is changed to address Ethical and Human rights issues for the wider community as well as Maori, will define the level of credibility for the government's proposals. A code of industry best-practice 9 (page 25) will be vital to restore legitimacy to the sector.

There are clear signals that not only has commercial development of the sector become the main focus for the government, but the intention is to promote New Zealand to foreign multinationals and biotech companies as a place for clinical trials and experimentation.

'Education' of the public and students is also referenced in a way that suggest real scientific and ethical issues will be transformed into fodder for biotech propoganda rather than the subject of genuine community-industry dialogue.

"A Coalition of Community groups and industry asked to meet with Pete Hodgson months ago to discuss the strategy but had the door shut in our face. Again we wait to see if this process will be more of the same", says Mr Carapiet

It is also concerning that the strategy document leaves very little time for public response, especially as it coincides with plans for changes to HSNO to allow 'conditional release' of GE organisms, also now open for comment.

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