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Liberalisation Of Genetic Engineering Threatens The Environment, Farmers And New Zealand

The coalition governments’ move to loosen biotechnology (GE) regulation is set to let down farmers and consumers and put New Zealand's export reputation at risk.

New Zealand's strict genetic engineering laws, under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO), have allowed farmers to avoid the negative consequences of GE commercialisation overseas. [1]

The coalition's agenda to liberalise laws on Genetic Engineering and allow the exemption and release of Genetically Engineered organisms will fail to ensure strong protections for human health and the environment. Despite claims that a new Regulator will be set up to manage any risks, the reality is that farmers and exporters will suffer economic damage.

Our distance from major markets will affect trade, as food from New Zealand will be considered no different to food from places like the US and Argentina, and Brand New Zealand will lose the asset of being GE-Free, estimated to currently be worth billions of dollars to the economy.

"Make no mistake. The new government's pro-biotechnology has a price to pay for farmers and exporters if we lose our point of difference as having superior standards for food safety and traceability than competing countries," said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE Free NZ (in food and environment).

GE crops designed to be resistant to glyphosate are not grown in New Zealand. But their use overseas has had negative impacts on farmers and their families. Health effects from the use of glyphosate based herbicides, used on GE tolerant crops, are increasing and being directly linked to cancer in animals and humans [2] [3]

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“The new government is backing GE technology that has failed to improve and fight climate change. We have had 24 years of GE crops and to date this has only expedited the risks of climate change with overuse of pesticides, monocultures of GE herbicide-tolerant crops and increased weed and pest resistance. This is leading to overuse of topical insecticides, like the dangerous bee killing neonicotinoids,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ (in food and environment).

Overseas farmers have lost their organic status of GE contamination from floods and climate extremes [4] Scientists who have worked in the large Agribiotech corporations are moving to regenerative methods after seeing the failures of GE crops. [5]

There is growing weed and pest resistance affecting food production and threatening farmers economic livelihoods. [5] New Zealand regulations have prevented that happening here and must not be sacrificed to promote commercial GE products that threaten Brand New Zealand's unique environment, and food reputation.

In New Zealand Genetically Engineered field trial have failed to deliver. The GE Rye grass failed to perform, Trials of GE brassica were susceptible to an undefined fungus that rotted the stems. GE alliums - onions - have been a failure. The experimental GE trees were stunted and died, and the existing trees are struggling to show any benefit over conventionally bred ones. Trials of GE animals has caused cruel suffering with abortions and deformities, respiratory and limb problems. [6]

New Zealand has benefited from policy that ensures Genetically Engineered and Gene Edited organisms are kept in containment. The emerging new biotechnologies (NBTs) or GE technologies are fraught with unintended and off target effects causing possibly deleterious mutations that must be regulated. [8]

New Zealand's opportunity is in using existing innovative non-GE science and methods that can already provide the solutions that farmers need.

These non-GE options will protect Brand New Zealand's reputation and the integrity of the environment. These include management of pests by conventional means. Also researching and implementing organic and regenerative agricultural systems that reduce pollution and global warming.

These systems represent real climate action that also allows New Zealand to trade competitively and differentiate our exports on world markets.

This is not a time when we should be introducing GE. Our customers in international markets simply don't want it.

If we can protect New Zealand's capacity as an exporter of GE Free food we will be leading the world in innovation, and enterprise. Farming is still the cornerstone of our economy and we must promote non-polluting and safe food production.

References:

[1] https://cban.ca/gmos/issues/environmental-impacts/
https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.1600850
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723947/

[2] https://www.reuters.com/legal/bayer-ordered-pay-156-billion-latest-us-trial-loss-over-roundup-weedkiller-2023-11-19/

[3] Panzacchi S et al (2023). Leukemia in Sprague-Dawley rats exposed long-term from prenatal life to glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2023.11.14.566013v1.article-info

[4] https://foodandwaterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/GMO-Contamination-Farmers-IB-March-2014_0.pdf
https://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/aug07/gmos_and_organics.php
https://www.iatp.org/sites/default/files/102_2_99846.pdf

[5] https://non-gmoreport.com/articles/from-gmos-to-regenerative-agriculture-a-scientists-journey/

[6] OIA responses to GE Free NZ on field trials https://www.gefree.org.nz/official-information-act-requests/

[7] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fbioe.2023.1276226/full
 

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