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PSRG Congratulate NZLSN On Moratorium Extension

Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics (PSRG) congratulate the New Zealand Life Sciences Network (Inc) for suggesting a two-month extension to the moratorium on field trials and commercial releases of genetically engineered organisms into the environment of New Zealand. However, PSRG consider that the two-month extension is inadequate.

PSRG urge the Government to extend the moratorium up to five years, thus giving time for newly-surfacing problems with overseas field trials to be properly researched. Information received from the UK and US highlights the problems being experienced with genetically engineered (GE) crops grown in the open.

PSRG urges the general availability of more balanced information on genetic engineering biotechnology, and believes the only scientific and regulatory common-sense approach for NZ in this current situation is to extend the moratorium on open field trials, commercial crops and food imports before irreparable damage is done to New Zealanders, the NZ environment and our export markets. Genetic engineering experimentation should be kept in the laboratory.


Problems with containment

Traits engineered into GE crops have ‘jumped’ to other plants. In Alberta, canola resistant to three chemicals - Roundup, Liberty and Pursuit - has been confirmed by chemical and DNA tests, and the Canadian Globe & Mail has talked of canola ‘volunteers’ as a ‘seed invasion’, plants appearing even where transgenic crops have never previously been grown. Glyphosate-resistance has jumped to weeds. In Canada these are so widespread the government has acknowledged it has a problem.

Last summer Delaware farmers complained of horseweed, conyza canadensis, surviving Roundup treatments in soy fields and University of Delaware researchers confirm it is becoming Roundup-resistant, the first broadleaf to resist glyphosate. University of Missouri weed specialists report evidence that some waterhemp has become insensitive to glyphosate-based herbicides. Monsanto, who manufacture Roundup, admit to two resistant plants; ryegrass in Australia and goosegrass in Malaysia.

Problems of genetic contamination

In April, Monsanto recalled contaminated Quest GE canola seed. Canada’s 2000 Quest acreage was 1.2 million. Total Canadian canola exports were worth $1.8 billion. A federal official described the Monsanto recall as "a fairly significant development … this has the ability to compromise exports of the Canadian canola crop."

Closer to home, the Tasmanian government recently acknowledged that transgenic material had escaped from 11 trial sites, proving again that even growing transgenic crops in isolation fails. They talked of aiding farmers within a ten kilometre radius of those sites to handle contamination. Scientists at the UK National Pollen Research Unit and at the Federal Agency in Austria have proven GE traits can jump at least 4.5 km. Bees are known to travel almost 10 kms.

Problems with toxins

Researchers in Corpus Christi, Texas, found aflatoxin levels in Monsanto’s transgenic BT corn significantly higher than in non-GE varieties. University of Missouri scientists record a significantly higher incidence of Fusarium on the roots of RoundupReady® soybeans receiving glyphosate at recommended rates, including the Fusarium responsible for sudden death syndrome (SDS).

Problems with agro-chemicals

The biotech industry promised a reduction in agricultural chemical use with transgenic crops. The United States Department of Agriculture reports that, despite 71% of transgenic crops being engineered for resistance to herbicides, pesticides or insecticides, there has not been the predicted reduction in chemical use. In fact, reports claim that since RoundupReady® crops were introduced glyphosate use has risen sharply. Obrycki et al (BioScience May 2001) confirm that
during the past five years, the percentage of field corn treated with insecticides in the US has remained at approximately 30%, despite a significant increase in the hectares of Bt corn planted.

Problems with international markets

US corn exports have dropped dramatically. Japan and Korea, two of the world’s largest grain purchasers, have switched to buying grain from Brazil. Brazil’s non-GE corn exports have reportedly increased 19%.

Europe is buying non-GE soybeans. Between 1995 and 2000, the US lost 14.3% of its export market share in soybeans, while Brazil's market share climbed 10.7%. The US soy market is subsidised up to about 70 per cent. Currently, a US draft Farm Bill is to pour an extra $NZ188 billion into a total package of $NZ400 billion in subsidies to farmers over the next decade.

Before it is even released, the Canadian Wheat Board, the world's largest distributor of wheat, reiterated on April 3 that they want a ban on growing GE wheat for fear of losing overseas grain market. Japan, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Italy and Norway have all said they do not want GE wheat.

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