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NZ Markets Threatened By GM Food Production - OPEG

NZ Risks Market Access By Adopting GM-Food Production, Organic Exporters Warn

The Organic Products Exporters Group (O.P.E.G.) has warned of irreversible, negative environmental and economic consequences, should New Zealand pursue the commercial production of genetically modified food.

It applauds the recent decision of the Independent Biotechnology Advisory Council (IBAC), to advise the Government to place a hold on the consideration of unrestricted releases of genetically modified (GM) plants.

In a strongly worded submission presented to the council on Tuesday, September 28, O.P.E.G. said that New Zealand’s recent progress towards “greener” agriculture and horticulture would be reversed in the markets on which our food industries depend.

“Scientists do not buy our food products, consumers do”, the submission stated, in reference to a worldwide trend of growing consumer resistance to GM food.

O.P.E.G. draws its arguments from five years of research led by Dr Hugh Campbell of Otago University. Funded by the Public Good Science Fund, Campbell’s research team has investigated horticultural export sectors that use organic or reduced chemical input methods of crop management.

The findings indicate that this sector has emerged to dominate industry planning in horticultural exporting and could be worth over $NZ1 billion in export revenue by the end of 2000. Organic exports alone are worth around $NZ40 million and are growing by 20% annually.

The research revealed that New Zealand’s “clean, green” image has enabled this developing sector to capture lucrative niches in the USA, Europe and Japan in the face of increasingly strict environmental and food-safety regulatory criteria.

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“This goodwill will cease and our market image would be impaired should a GM-food export industry become established (in New Zealand),” the O.P.E.G. submission said.

The submission further warned that the European Union and Japan may be motivated by political ends to position GM foods outside the ambit of “safe foods” . Labelling of GM foods has already become law in these markets.

As a consequence, O.P.E.G. predicts that the trade future for GM foods is doubtful in the medium term. In contrast, consumer endorsement of organic foods is significant and growing.

O.P.E.G. maintains that New Zealand’s comparative advantage lies in continuing and accelerating the greening strategy embraced by its horticultural industries. Because of this country’s natural isolation and environmental qualities, organic agriculture has an extremely promising future, whereas commercial GM technologies appear to add little to New Zealand’s unique qualities, and could well detract from them.

O.P.E.G.’s stance is that the integrity of New Zealand’s certified organic products industry should not be compromised by avoidable GM technology. The greatest threats to this integrity are contamination from GM crops through pollen drift, and an increase in insect resistance to natural toxins used in some GM plants, but also by organic production methods.

Beyond these market-related concerns, O.P.E.G. bases its opposition to GM-food production on the position of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). Last year this respected world organics body issued a call to governments and regulatory agencies to ban the use of genetic engineering in agriculture and food production, for the following reasons.

 Unacceptable threats to health
 Negative and irreversible environmental impacts, eg. impaired biodiversity
 Release of organisms of an unrecallable nature
 Removal of the right of choice, both for farmers and consumers
 Violation of farmers’ fundamental property rights and endangerment of their economic independence
 Incompatibility with the principles of sustainable agriculture as defined by IFOAM.

The Independent Biotechnology Advisory Council (IBAC) was established by the Government in May to help the New Zealand public explore and consider biotechnology issues. Because the public consultation process has only just got underway, the council is advising caution before an irrevocable decision such as the unrestricted release of GM plants is made.

The council’s convenor, Professor Peter Gluckman, has said that the council is unaware of any detailed analysis of the economic, trade or other implications of New Zealand releasing GM plants on a commercial scale.

O.P.E.G. is confident that the research carried out by Dr Hugh Campbell, and presented in its submission to IBAC, will provide the council with essential information, and help focus New Zealanders’ attention on the advantages of sustainable, organic food production. O.P.E.G. also supports the need to undertake further extensive economic, environmental and trade analysis of the implications of the introduction of genetically modified organisms.


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