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'Independence' of scientific advisors questioned

Minister should call in application until 'independence' of scientific advisors is evaluated.

GE Free NZ in food and environment is calling for an independent audit of advice given to authorities that relates to decisions on genetic engineering in New Zealand.

The call follows the release of report from Whitehall (UK), revealing that "dozens of the Government's most influential advisers on critical health and environmental issues have close links to biotech and drug corporations".

GE Free NZ in food and environment believes an audit is urgently needed to reassure the public that authorities in New Zealand have not been misled, or are open to similar influences.

The inability of the New Zealand government and its advisors to consider aspects of dissenting views on GE was recently indicated as a problem by the independent review of ERMA. Conflicts of interest could affect officials' ability to assess 'independent' advice they give to Government. A similar conflict of interest to that in the UK, where Ministry officials’ beliefs and interests are significantly opposed to the growing GE concerns of the general public, should not occur here.

GE Free (NZ) wants all New Zealand officials to declare their interests in relation to this issue and has asked for ERMA and the minister to conduct an investigative audit.

"The latest comment from Dr Rolleston pointing "out the very close links that members of the Royal Commission had with him proves that there could be a conflict of interest. How many other influential advisors have direct links with the GE industry?" said Claire Bleakley, President of GE Free (NZ) "The degree of conflict must be investigated to address any concerns that this could influence ERMA's approvals, or encourage decisions that bias the application of the law towards the interests of big business".

It is of concern to see that the latest ERMA application for GE field trials of onions has important information missing due to 'confidential' clauses. The 49 recommendations of the ERMA review need to be implemented, or the submission called in until they are addressed.

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