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Delegates Short-Changed at Biotech Conference

17 Mar 2003

Delegates Short-Changed at "Commercialising Biotech" Conference

Delegates to the Commercialising Biotechnology Conference (Auckland 18/19 March) are being short-changed on vital information they need for decision-making about the development of the sector in New Zealand.

"Not one of the sessions or speakers addresses New Zealand's marketing-image, consumer trends or how these will impact which projects might be commercially viable and which will fail," says Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-Free NZ in food and environment.

"There is a serious risk of misleading delegates by having a bias to speakers from the supply-side and from regulators like ERMA, " says Mr Carapiet . "The effect is to create a closed-shop of specialists reassuring each other but ignoring the consumers and the market they are supposed to be serving."

The $2000-per-head conference fees allow delegates to attend sessions on a range of topics facing the industry but could seriously mislead delegates into thinking ethical and regulatory issues have all been settled at a time when New Zealand is still debating them.

The Conference also signals a major change in direction for the country, with little public awareness or debate.

New Zealand is being promoted as a place for experiments by overseas biotech-entrepreneurs and being repositioned away from its current marketing base for food and agricultural products.

" It is wrong that New Zealand should be sold to delegates as a biotechnology play-ground when the debate about ethics and regulation of biotechnology is still underway," says Mr Carapiet.

Commercialising biotechnology raises a range of issues that communities and governments around the world are being faced with.

Last week there were warnings in the media that tests for some forms of Breast Cancer could become unaffordable because of license fees charged by the company holding the patent.

Without an analysis of how commercial biotechnology can be guided by standards of community acceptability the delegates risk being sold-to rather than properly informed

The government has recently been consulting on " Bio Prospecting" in New Zealand and has itself recognised special issues raised for Maori under the Treaty. However, before the round is finished , government speakers at the conference already seem to be promoting opportunities for investors.

"There is a real risk that the one-sided take at the conference will mislead delegates into believing they can go ahead with speculative projects without listening to consumers or respecting community values," says Mr Carapiet. "That is not the case- as evidenced by the High Court review on GE cows sought by MADGE."

ENDS

Contact: Jon Carapiet- 09 815 3370


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