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New Zealand Food Safety Minister Silenced In TransTasman GE Forum

New Zealand’s Ministerial engagement in the Trans Tasman GE Food Standards approval process has been silenced. The Conran review of the Council of Australian Governments COAG fora has recommended the dismantling of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Ministerial Forum proposing that the meetings are “time-limited, when needed and for specific tasks with specified, sun-setting time frames of no longer than 12 months…”[1]

The Conran recommendation comes at a time when Bayer are ready to unleash their gene edited (GE) herbicide-tolerant Xtendflex food plants. They will be regularly re-engineered to increase the amount of pesticides the plants can tolerate, leaving the foods unlabeled and laden with a cocktail of toxic herbicide residues. [2]

“New Zealand has yet again been treated as ‘trash’ by Australia,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ “The loss of the Ministerial Forum oversight on GE foods has serious health implications. The food chain will become a toxic quagmire of unlabelled GE foods, the risks going undetected because of lack of tracing and diagnostic tools. This will further burden the NZ health system.”

Editing (GE) is the process of slicing chromosome strands in half using an enzyme from bacteria attached to RNA. Dr Jonathan Latham describes the GE process as random and messy. The severing of the DNA causes “panic” in the chromosome triggering the emergency repair mechanism to patch the damage. This “panic” causes unreliable and random insertions or deletions of DNA at the points where the genome was cut, which can lead to the death of the cell or to off target effects and mutations that may be detected when the cells are grown.

Dr. Kawall’s research (2021) identified that the GE alterations have potential to accidentally alter the plants' ability to cope with climate change; interfere with the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites, which could affect the defense mechanisms; and disrupt the internal and external ecosystem communication. These GE combined or cumulative destructive interactions pose an unknown risk to the environment, human health, and subsequent generations. [3]

Dr. R Ono (2019) found that in mice there were unintentional horizontal gene transfers, of bovine, goat, and e-coli DNA from the vectors, inserted at the double-strand break (DSB) sites introduced by the CRISPR-Cas9 system. These mutations and pollution of the cells' DNA have been overlooked or neglected by developers. [4]

“Such neglect of GE mutations and the risks taken by developers shows how important regulatory oversight is for all GE organisms. Our food chain is under threat from a deluge of unregulated GE foods that have no labels, no testing for safety, and no meaningful New Zealand Ministerial oversight,” said Bleakley.

The dismantling of the Ministerial Forum removes the only avenue where New Zealand has the ability to ask about the safety of the process, as the FSANZ Act does not allow a submitter to challenge a decision, only the applicant.

“The FSANZ approval process is being treated as a rubber-stamping exercise and consultation with consumers is being treated just an irritating formality. The Ministerial Forum oversight was able to challenge any decision and gave New Zealand a voice, that is now being silenced” said Bleakley.

“It is time for an urgent re-set on food safety regulation allowing New Zealand to divorce from the trans Tasman FSANZ body. We need to reclaim our sovereignty and create a stand alone New Zealand GE food standards regulator.”

References:
[1] https://www.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/final-report-review-coag-councils-ministerial-forums.pdf

[2] Hussain A, Ding X, Alariqi M, Manghwar H, Hui F, Li Y, Cheng J, Wu C, Cao J, Jin S. Herbicide Resistance: Another Hot Agronomic Trait for Plant Genome Editing. Plants. 2021; 10(4):621. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants10040621

[3] Kawall, K. (2021) Genome-edited Camelina sativawith a unique fatty acid content and its potential impact on ecosystems. Environ Sci Eur 33:38 https://doi.org/10.1186/s12302-021-00482-2

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6368560/

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