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Anger as Government capitulates to industry on GM

Anger as Government capitulates to industry on GM

The government 's changes to legislation covering genetic modification (GM) is a capitulation under industry pressure that will jeopardise New Zealand's future opportunities rather than preserving them.

The proposals turn a blind eye to growing scientific evidence that releases cannot be controlled and of spreading GE contamination, as disclosed by the UK government in the DEFRA report last December.

The concept of " conditional release" is presented as a useful change to the HSNO Act that currently only allows for full release or full containment. In fact it is more correctly a "fix up" to legitimate approvals ERMA has already given.

" Existing field trials are not sufficiently contained to prevent leaking. We have seen examples of controls failing for canola trials, salmon eggs escaping through mesh, and GE leakage from tamarillo trials," says Jon Carapiet from GE-Free NZ in food and environment.

"In effect the conditional release category is what we have already - it's just that until now it has been illegal," he says.

It is nonsense for the Minister to compare conditional release with 'clinical trials'. A fairer comparison would be with medical experimentation undertaken without the consent of the patient.

The examples given of how Conditional Release would work also beggar belief , especially the idea of " conditional release " of insects. There is little confidence that the suggested approach will work. These include: that only one sex of an organism be released (to prevent breeding), a limit on the number of released organisms, and most incredibly: a limit on where the organism can be released Liability

Proposed ' civil liability' is also far too weak to moderate the biotech industry and prevent uninsurable GM applications such as environmental release. Government proposals include amendments to impose both a strict civil liability and civil penalties regime in 'cases where an activity breaches the law'. This will cover cases where, for example, the necessary ERMA approvals had not been obtained or where conditions imposed by ERMA as part of approval had deliberately not been complied with

" The rules are a jack-up that give industry an ideal defence: as long as they can say " we obeyed ERMA's controls they are in the clear, and ERMA are not themselves liable. Damage continues to be socialised onto the public," says Mr Carapiet.

Other changes to HSNO are equally concerning.

ERMA's minimum criteria

The proposals make mention of ERMA's minimum criteria for assessment but these lack some fundamentals that are vital to protect our future and " preserve options.'

'There are missing criteria for minimum standards: for example the criteria of preventing the destruction of New Zealand's existing " brand equity" which is our economic strength, or ERMA allowing release that may not cause physical harm but by contamination effectively deny peoples' rights to choose GE-free foods," says Mr Carapiet

The cost of MAF

The cost of MAF ensuring that so-called controls are met is also of concern. Once again the public carry the costs for controlling private-interest applications of GE, and MAF are being set a task which is impossible to fulfill.

" The cost of the GE experiments in New Zealand are likely to be huge. MAF are being set up to fail and it could all be a waste of money as contamination under this regime will inevitably spread," says Mr Carapiet Ministerial Call in powers

Changes to the call-in powers also unlikely to inspire public confidence. The Minister is noteworthy for failing to see significant ethical and spiritual issues raised by recent approvals of GE cow experiments.

" The government and their advisors are turning a blind eye to the general economic threat from the release of GE (conditional or otherwise). They are missing the " big picture" and following the biotech industry's tune,' says Mr. Carapiet.

More Secrecy blocking OIA information

The proposal also claims other amendments would clarify the rules protecting confidential supporting information supplied in applications for ERMA approval when these become the subject of an Official Information Act (OIA) request.

There is concern that a veil of secrecy will be dropped under the guise of commercial sensitivity.

"Marian Hobbs comments that "There have been no problems to date in this area'" but we know that is not true. Secrecy over the composition of the Bt spray being used in Auckland against the Painted Apple Moth is a prime example of the public being denied basic information that would allow civil society to scrutinise what is being done."

" The hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who have been involved in the process over the last few years are likely to feel betrayed by the proposals the governement has announced today," said Jon Carapiet.

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