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Minister Misleading Public Over Terminator Trials

Minister Misleading Public Over Terminator Trials

GE Free NZ in food and Environment believe Marian Hobbs is deliberately misleading the public about New Zealand's backing for Terminator genes at an international conference. Worse, she may be covering up the fact that similar technology is already being trialled in the field in this country.

Following the UN conference on Biodiversity the Minister has been called on to support an international moratorium on development of Terminator seeds until the fundamental societal issues have been scrutinised by the world community.

She has refused to do so and has dodged the question. But she has also not been honest about the fact that ERMA appear to have already approved trials of a different "GURT" (Genetic Use Restriction Technique) at Rotorua.

Firstly the Minister misled the media and the public when she implied she is being unreasonably asked to support a "ban" rather than a moratorium on Terminator seeds. Her press statement says "Marian Hobbs rejected a call (to (support a) ban on field tests for "terminator genes" raised in the report" .

This language seems to be a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the situation as revealed by the Minister's personal response to messages about Terminator seeds where she states:" It is important to note that countries are not presently being asked to vote on banning or otherwise of the use of GURTs" .

What's more the Minster's main advisors have allowed the misleading impression to go uncorrected as a way to avoid the question about a worldwide moratorium on Terminator seeds.

By talking in generalisations about GURTS but not specifically about Terminator seeds, Marian Hobbs is dodging the ethical question facing the international community.

She is also hiding the fact that ERMA may have approved field trials of GE trees at Rotorua incorporating a GURT. The application for GE pine trees now being grown in New Zealand is understood to include some with the "barnase" gene construct which is another approach to genetic control.

"The government must state their support for the global community over Terminator seeds,and back a moratorium," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment.

"It must also face up to the fact that - despite opposition from many quarters- ERMA may have quietly allowed GE field trials of another form of GURT to begin in Rotorua"

"People may be angry that it's already starting but that's the way the government is pushing," says Jon Carapiet. " It's for that very reason the public are demanding our government come out clearly in support of the international moratorium on development of Terminator seeds".

The New Zealand government must keep faith with the public and the world by promising GE Terminator in food is not next on the agenda."

Message from Marian Hobbs to public objections on NZ backing Terminator: :

Thank you for your correspondence concerning seed sterilisation technology,
and the recent discussions at the meeting of the Subsidiary Body on
Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice to the United Nations
Convention on Biological Diversity (SBSTTA). In particular you have
expressed concerns about New Zealand's position on the banning or otherwise
of the use of genetic use restriction technology (GURTs), i.e. seed
sterilisation technology.

As this issue comes within my Environment portfolio, I am responding on
behalf of the government.

It is important to note that countries are not presently being asked to
vote on banning or otherwise of the use of GURTs.

I understand that the report of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on GURTs
that was submitted to the SBSTTA did not present recommendations that had
been agreed by a consensus. The SBSTTA is currently considering the status
of the report and the appropriate nature of its use.

The New Zealand Government considers it is not appropriate to apply a
blanket ban to the use of seed sterilisation technology. The government
recognises the potential for both adverse and positive effects and prefers
to consider such application of this technology on a case by case basis.

An analogy can be made to nuclear technology. In New Zealand we have
banned nuclear weapons but have accepted the use of nuclear technology in,
for example, our hospitals, where there is a beneficial use such as cancer
treatment. So we have to measure the usefulness of nuclear technology ?
and, I would argue, seed sterilisation technology ? on the basis of the
specific use or application at issue at the time.

It is important to remain open to any future benefits of this technology.
That is why we should keep our options open and assess any applications on
a case-by-case basis - the approach recommended by the Royal Commission on
Genetic Modification.

New Zealand's Hazardous Substances and New Organisms regime provides for a
rigorous assessment of the effects of all new organisms, including
genetically modified organisms, and including organisms containing seed
sterilisation technologies. I appreciate the concerns you have raised but
I am confident that New Zealand has a robust regulatory system in place to
manage any adverse effects posed by this technology.

I also appreciate the potential impact of this technology in other
countries, including on the world's poor. For this reason, it is important
New Zealand keeps a close watch on developments as they occur (there are
currently no plants produced using seed sterilisation technology in
commercial use anywhere in the world). But it is also important not to
turn our backs on a technology which may one day offer benefits and
solutions to people in developing countries.

Marian Hobbs


Hon Marian Hobbs
10 February 2005

NZ supports case-by-case assessment

New Zealand has no firm view on the merits of new organisms involving seed sterilisation technology but supports their
case-by-case assessment rather than a blanket ban, Environment Minister Marian Hobbs said today.

The topic is being discussed at an international conference in Bangkok on the Convention on Biological Diversity, where
a group of technical experts have reported on the use of Genetic Use Restriction Technologies or seed sterilisation
technologies. Marian Hobbs rejected a call from GE Free NZ and the Green Party for New Zealand to support a ban on
field tests for "terminator genes" raised in the report.

"Our understanding is that the scientific experts involved in drafting the report could not agree," Marian Hobbs said. "In
the absence of consensus we find it to difficult to believe a ban is the right path to follow.

"We consider applications for use of technologies such as this should be assessed on their merits because there is the
potential for positive environmental effects.

"As noted by the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification in their 2001 report: 'the use of sterility technology in
commercial forestry trees should be investigated, as it has the potential to reduce pollen production with its associated
allergenicity problems and prevent wild pine escape. However, a full assessment, based on field trials, of the effects of
genetically modified sterility on the ecology of the forest would be required.'

"There are no plants produced using seed sterilisation technologies in commercial use anywhere and speculation about
their possible impact is premature.

"New Zealand's Hazardous Substances and New Organisms regime provides for a rigorous assessment of the effects of
all new organisms, including genetically modifed organisms.

"We regard this framework as an example for other countries, with concerns of GURTS, to establish an evidence-based
system to assess impacts and manage risks of all new organisms – whether those risks be social, environmental or

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