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Truth less important than "rigorous debate”

Truth less important than "rigorous debate" says Advertising Standards Authority.

The Advertising Standards Authority says debate is more important than applying strict rules against misleading advertising and has rejected a complaint against a pro-GE industry lobby-group. The Authority said the Life Science Network advertising campaign prior to the last election was "advocacy" where the rules about misleading readers should be applied "liberally".

But at least one of the media organisations which ran the advertisement say the Life Science 'advocacy' advertising put the Media in a difficult position and that in future such advertising would be more closely examined. In correspondence to the ASA a spokesperson for The Dominion Post said "The question about truthful representation is another issue.... The advertisement makes the very clear claim that there have been no health issues substantiated involving consumption of GE products and the complainant documents examples which certainly appear to be at odds with the claim".

The Dominion Post added: "As a publisher we are in a very difficult situation when looking at this form of advertising...However to avoid similar problems in the future it may be necessary to ensure that advertisements involving the GE debate are more robustly examined and questions asked as necessary."

The incidence of GE L-Tryptophan which killed scores of people and maimed thousands remains a particular point of scientific contention.

The board noted that according to the Life Sciences Network the adverse effects of a batch of GE L-Tryptophan had been assigned by the "United States courts", to the manufacturing process rather than the process of genetic modification. However, the Board reiterated its position that "it was not an arbiter of scientific fact"

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Describing its view on "advocacy" advertising, the Authority says robust debate in a democratic society is to be encouraged and that the Codes should be interpreted "liberally". "The spirit of the Code is more important than t echnical breaches. People have the right to express their views and this right should not be unduly or unreasonably restricted by Rules", say the Authority.

The Board also noted that the Life Sciences Network used in its defence a newspaper article from The New Zealand Herald of 25 May 2002, saying the police had agreed that "the sabotage was probably the work of a far left environmental group, the Wild Greens". In the Board's view that was sufficient substantiation of the claim used in the advertisement.

" It is very concerning that the Authority rather than the Courts have been left to judge the opinions of police and Life Sciences lobbyists and blame an incidence of sabotage specifically on the Wild Greens, despite no evidence and no proof that insiders were not somehow involved, " says Jon Carapiet, a spokesperson for GE-Free NZ in food and environment.

There is concern from GE-free community groups that this decision will encourage the Life Sciences Industry to make more misleading claims in an effort to promote itself. This has occurred overseas and has included suppression of scientific research in order to justify claims of GE safety by ensuring "there is no evidence of harm".

" Basic research has been ignored or sidelined and that allows GE lobbyists to say they haven't seen the evidence of harm, "says Mr Carapiet. " Basic testing is simply not being done."

"(The Board) was of the view that well known advocates such as the Life Sciences Network and the Complainant (Claire Bleakley), should continue to debate the issue of genetic engineering and other scientific matters publicly."

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