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Open letter regarding misinformation allegations

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Hon Jim Anderton
Deputy Prime Minister

Dear Helen Clark and Jim Anderton

An open letter regarding allegations of misinformation

The last week has seen a series of statements from industry groups and publicly funded institutes criticising the GE-free NZ movement. Greenpeace particularly objects to allegations of misinformation, fear and scaremongering. Rather than assisting the Government in their decision making, these claims have detracted from the debate.

Further, it appears from the statements issued, that there is a concerted attempt to polarise the issue of GE, and ignore the fact that common ground has been established between research, economic and environmental imperatives.

That common ground is a GE-free environment and food chain. Genetic engineering must stay in a contained laboratory.

This ‘keep it in the lab’ position is not inconsistent with the Royal Commission of Inquiry’s report. The Commission acknowledged that there were significant knowledge gaps with which to make risk assessments, that there was little known about potential adverse effects on our indigenous flora and fauna, and negative impacts may take time to manifest, be diffuse in nature and difficult to trace.

Where the Commission fails is that these grave concerns are not carried through to the recommendations. By attempting to be all things to everyone, the Report does not provide a clear strategy or direction for the government and people of NZ. Because of the conflicting messages within the report, and the lack of public and tangata whenua representation, the Commission’s recommendations cannot be looked at in isolation. The context required must include public opinion, Treaty of Waitangi issues, economic pragmatism and overseas evidence published after the Commission.

Recent international evidence includes a report looking into farm- scale field trials in the United Kingdom. The UK Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission outlines considerable containment concerns in their paper11 Crops on Trial, A report by The United Kingdom Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, September 2001 “…no separation distance can guarantee zero-GM status.” (p 38 para109) They go on to acknowledge, “the future compatibility of different forms of agriculture appears to be at stake.” (p 39 para 110)

Field trial breaches are also well documented in Australia. The Tasmanian Select Committee 22 Joint Select Committee Report on Gene Technology, Parliament of Tasmania, June 2001 outlines 21 documented breaches of field trials since 1998, and accepts that contamination is inevitable. They particularly acknowledge human error in containment breaches, “Aventis CropScience have been found to have breached a wide range of GMAC guidelines at a number of GM canola crop trial sites in at least two Australian States, both before and after this evidence was heard.” (p69)

It is also important to note that there have been a number of field trial breaches in NZ. Therefore, given all these concerns and uncertainties it is imperative to take a precautionary approach. Restricting GE to the laboratory is an exercise in commonsense and prudence.

Many of us agree that the debate is over appropriate use of GE technology. In this context, Greenpeace is extremely concerned at statements by the pro-GE lobby that the public are being lead astray, or are ignorant. As you will be well aware, there are many different reasons why people are calling for a GE-free NZ. This issue spans generations, ethnicities and communities, and the bottom line is the same: a GE-free environment and food chain.

Yours sincerely


Annette Cotter
Genetic Engineering Campaign


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