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Open Letter from World Scientists to All Govts

Open Letter from World Scientists to All Governments


We, the undersigned scientists call for the immediate suspension of all environmental releases of GM crops, both commercially and in open field trials, for at least five years; and for patents on organisms, seeds, cell lines and genes to be revoked and banned.

Patents on life-forms are allowing corporations to pirate intellectual and genetic resources from Third World nations and increasing corporate monopoly on food production and distribution. GM crops are not necessary to feed the world. There is already more than enough food for everyone. What we need is an end to food monopoly and a more equitable distribution.

The public have been promised miracle GM crops that will fix nitrogen, resist drought and improve yield. Instead, the only crops on offer are engineered to be tolerant to wide-spectrum herbicides manufactured by the same corporations, or are engineered with bt-toxins to kill insect pests. The latest largescale survey of GM crops showed they offered no benefits. On the contrary, they yield significantly less and require the use of more herbicides.

The hazards of GM crops are now becoming apparent, and some of them are acknowledged by sources with the UK and US Governments. The herbicides used with herbicide-tolerant crops destroy biodiversity and are toxic to many

animals including human beings. Herbicide-tolerant GM crops have become

weeds and created further weeds by cross-pollination. The bt-toxins harm beneficial insect-pollinators, and have also led to widespread evolution of resistance among insect pests.

The horizontal spread of antibiotic resistance marker genes from GM crops has already been recognised as a serious hazard that will compromise the

treatment of life-threatening infectious diseases which have come back worldwide. New findings show that the horizontal spread of marker genes and other transgenic DNA can occur, not only by ingestion but via breathing in pollen and dust. The cauliflower mosaic viral promoter, widely used in GM crops, may enhance horizontal gene transfer and has the potential to generate new viruses that cause diseases.

All commercial plantings and open field trials should be halted. They are hazardous as the spread of transgenic pollen cannot be controlled. At the same time, the field-trials will produce no useful results because the protocols are inadequate. No attempts are being made to monitor for horizontal gene transfer or for impacts on public health.

There is an urgent need for research into sustainable agricultural methods that do not require GM crops. Many of these systems have already resulted in increased yields and diminished environmental impacts around the world. * * *

We, the undersigned scientists, call for the immediate suspension of all

environmental releases of GM crops, both commercially and in open field trials, for at least 5 years; and for patents on organisms, seeds, cell lines and genes to be revoked and banned [1].

1. Patents on life-forms are allowing corporations to plagiarise indigenous knowledge and plunder genetic resources from Third World communities, and at the same time, increasing corporate monopoly on food which is destroying livelihoods of family farmers all over the world.

2. It is becoming increasingly clear that the current GM crops are neither needed nor beneficial. They are a dangerous diversion from the real task of providing food and health around the world.

3. The promises to genetic engineer crops to fix nitrogen, resist drought, improve yield and to 'feed the world' have been around for at least 30 years. Such promises have built up a multibillion-dollar industry now controlled by a mere handful of corporate giants.

4. The miracle crops have not materialised. Instead, two simple characteristics account for all the GM crops in the world [2]. More than

70% are tolerant to broad-spectrum herbicides, with companies engineering plants to be tolerant to their own brand of herbicide, while the rest are engineered with bt-toxins to kill insect pests. A total of 65 million acres were planted in 1998 within the US, Argentina and Canada. The latest surveys on GM crops in the US, the largest grower by far, showed no significant benefit. On the contrary, the most widely grown GM crops -herbicide-tolerant soya beans - yielded on average 6.7% less and required two to five times more herbicides than non-GM varieties [3].

5. According to the UN food programme, there is enough food to feed the world one and a half times over. World cereal yields have consistently outstripped population growth since 1980, but one billion are hungry [4]. It is on account of corporate monopoly operating under the globalised economy that the poor are getting poorer and hungrier. Family farmers all over the world have been driven to destitution and suicide, and for the same reasons. Between 1993 and 1997 the number of mid-sized farms in the US dropped by 74,440 [5], and farmers are now receiving below the average cost of production for their produce [6]. Four corporations currently control 85% of the world trade in cereals [7].

6. The new patents on seeds will intensify corporate monopoly by preventing farmers from saving and replanting seeds, which is what most farmers still do in the Third World. Christian Aid, a major charity working with the Third World, concludes that GM crops will cause unemployment, exacerbate Third World debt, threaten sustainable farming systems and damage the environment. It predicts famine for the poorest countries [8]. The picture is just as grim for the developed world. A coalition of family farming groups in the US have declared their opposition to GM crops and corporate ownership of life-forms through patenting. They are demanding a moratorium on all corporate mergers and acquisitions, a moratorium on farm closures, and an end to policies that serve big agribusiness interests at the expense of family farmers, taxpayers and the environment [9].

7. The hazards of GM crops are now becoming apparent, and some of them are acknowledged by sources within the UK and US Governments. For example, the UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) has admitted that the transfer of GM crops and pollen beyond the planted fields is unavoidable

[10], and this has already resulted in herbicide-tolerant weeds [11]. Bt-resistant insect pests have evolved in response to the continuous presence of the toxins in transgenic plants throughout the growing season, and the US Environment Protection Agency is recommending farmers to plant up to 40% non-GM crops in order to create refugia for non-resistant insect pests [12]. The broad-spectrum herbicides used with herbicide-tolerant GM crops not only decimate wild species indiscriminately, but are toxic to animals. One of them, glufosinate, causes birth defects in mammals [13], A Swedish study now links the top-selling herbicide, glyphosate, to non-Hodgkin lymphoma [14]. GM crops with bt-toxins kill beneficial insects such as bees [15] and lacewings [16], and pollen from bt-maize is lethal to monarch butterflies [17].

8. A potential source of health hazards from GM crops is from the secondary horizontal transfer of transgenic DNA to unrelated species; in principle, to all species interacting with the transgenic plants [18]. The spread of antibiotic resistance marker genes to pathogens is the most immediate danger as this will further compromise treatment of life-threatening drug and antibiotic resistance diseases which have come back worldwide. However, the random insertion of foreign DNA into genomes associated with horizontal transfer of transgenic DNA can also result in many harmful effects, including cancer in mammalian cells [19]. The potential for horizontal gene transfer is now also acknowledged by sources within the US and UK Governments.

9. The possibility for naked or free DNA to be taken up by mammalian cells is explicitly mentioned in the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) draft guidance to industry on antibiotic resistance marker genes [20]. In commenting on the FDA's document, the UK MAFF pointed out that transgenic DNA may be transferred not just by ingestion, but by contact with plant dust and air-borne pollen during farm work and food processing [21], and

cited several significant new findings bearing on the issue.

10. Thus, plant DNA is not readily degraded during most commercial food processing [22]. Procedures such as grinding and milling left grain DNA

largely intact, as did heat-treatment at 90°C. The DNA of plants placed in silage showed little degradation of DNA, and the special MAFF report advises against using ensilaged transgenic plants in animal feed.

11. The letter from UK MAFF to US FDA also mentions new findings that the human mouth contains bacteria capable of taking up and expressing naked DNA containing antibiotic resistance marker genes and similar transformable bacteria are also present in the respiratory tracts [23].

12. What both regulatory authorities have failed to consider is that transgenic pollens, which may have increased allergenicity and toxicity besides, will almost certainly spread far afield to the general public. Similarly, the current unregulated practice of feeding farm animals transgenic grain and plant remains, and transgenic wastes, both ensilaged and otherwise, is endangering the health of farm animals and of human beings in spreading antibiotic resistance marker genes and other transgenic DNA.

13. Serious health concerns are also raised by the cauliflower mosaic viral (CaMV) promoter in transgenic DNA. The CaMV promoter, widely used in expression cassettes of transgenes, is known to contain a 'recombination hotspot'. One usual mechanism of recombination involves the double-stranded DNA breaking and joining with other double-stranded DNA. This has been identified as the mechanism generating many different lines of transgenic rice during a routine transformation experiment. Extensive recombination at the hotspot has taken place in the absence of the viral recombinase, indicating that the host plant cell can catalyse such recombinations [24]. Thus, the CaMV promoter has an enhanced capability to transfer horizontally, with potentially dangerous consequences.

14. CaMV is closely related to human hepatitis B virus, and also has a reverse transcriptase gene related to that in retroviruses such as the AIDS-associated HIV [25]. Thus, the CaMV promoter not only enhances horizontal gene transfer, but has the potential to reactivate dormant viruses (which are in all genomes) and to generate new viruses by recombination.

15. The British Medical Association, in their interim report (published May, 1999), called for an indefinite moratorium on the releases of GMOs

pending further research on new allergies, the spread of antibiotic resistance genes and the effects of transgenic DNA. This position is fully in accord with the precautionary principle.

16. Contrary to the claims of the UK Government, no useful results can be obtained in the current massive 'farm-scale' trials of transgenic herbicide-tolerant oil-seed rape and maize where the spread of transgenic pollens cannot be controlled, and which make no attempts to monitor for horizontal gene transfer or for impacts on health [26].

17. Research into sustainable, non-corporate agricultural systems which do not involve GM crops should be widely supported. Many of these systems have already resulted in increased yield and income for family farmers, diminished environmental impacts, and improvements in nutrition and health for all [27].

1. See World Scientists Statement

2. James, C. (1998). Global Status of Transgenic Crops in 1998, ISAAA Briefs, New York.

3. Benbrook, C. (1999). Evidence of the Magnitude and Consequences of the Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University-Based Varietal Trials in 1998, Ag BioTech InfoNet Technical Paper No. 1, Idaho.

4. See Watkins, K. (1999). Free trade and farm fallacies. Third World Resurgence 100/101, 33-37.

5. Farm and Land in Farms, Final Estimates 1993-1997, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

6. See Griffin, D. (1999). Agricultural globalization. A threat to food security? Third World Resurgence 100/101, 38-40.

7. Farm Aid fact sheet: The Farm Crisis Deepens, Cambridge, Mass, 1999.

8. Simms, A. (1999). Selling Suicide, farming, false promises and genetic engineering in developing countries, Christian Aid, London.

9. Farmer's rally on Capitol Hill, September 12, 1999.

10. MAFF Fact Sheet: Genetic modification of crops and food, June, 1999.

11. See Ho, M.W. and Tappeser, B. (1997). Potential contributions of horizontal gene transfer to the transboundary movement of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. Proceedings of Workshop on Transboundary Movement of Living Modified Organisms resulting from Modern biotechnology : Issues and Opportunities for Policy-makers (K.J. Mulongoy, ed.), pp. 171-193, International Academy of the Environment, Geneva.

12. Mellon, M. and Rissler, J. (1998). Now or Never. Serious New Plans to Save a Natural Pest Control, Union of Conerned Scientists, Cambridge, Mass.

13. Garcia,A.,Benavides,F.,Fletcher,T. and Orts,E. (1998). Paternal exposure to pesticides and congenital malformations. Scand J Work Environ Health 24, 473-80.

14. Hardell, H. & Eriksson, M. (1999). A Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Exposure to Pesticides. Cancer85, 1353-1360.

15. "Cotton used in medicine poses threat: genetically-altered cotton may not be safe" Bangkok Post, November 17, 1997.

16. Hilbeck, A., Baumgartner, M., Fried, P.M. and Bigler, F. (1998). Effects of transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis-corn-fed prey on mortality and development time of immature Chrysoperla carnea (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae). Environmental Entomology 27, 480-96.

17. Losey, J.E., Rayor, L.D. and Carter, M.E. (1999). Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae. Nature 399, 214.

18. Reviewed in Ho, M.W. (1998,1999). Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business, Gateway Books, Bath; Ho, M.W., Traavik, T., Olsvik, R., Tappeser, B., Howard, V., von Weizsacker, C. and McGavin, G. (1998b). Gene Technology and Gene Ecology of Infectious Diseases. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 10, 33-59; Traavik, T. (1999a). Too early may be too late, Ecological risks associated with the use of naked DNA as a biological tool for research, production and therapy, Research report for Directorate for Nature Management, Norway.

19. Reviewed by Doerfler, W., Schubbert, R., Heller, H., Kämmer, C., Hilger-Eversheim, D., Knoblauch, M. and Remus, R. (1997). Integration of foreign DNA and its consequences in mammalian systems. Tibtech 15, 297-301; see also note 18.

20. Draft Guidance for Industry: Use of Antibiotic Resistance Marker Genes in Transgenic Plants, US FDA, September 4, 1998.

21. See Letter from N. Tomlinson, Joint Food Safety and Standards Group, MAFF, to US FDA, 4 December, 1998.

22. Forbes, J.M., Blair, D.E., Chiter, A., and Perks, S. (1998). Effect of Feed Processing Conditions on DNA Fragmentation Section 5 - Scientific Report, MAFF.

23. Mercer, D.K., Scott, K.P., Bruce-Johnson, W.A. Glover, L.A. and Flint, H.J. (1999). Fate of free DNA and transformation of the oral bacterium Streptococcus gordonii DL1 by plasmid DNA in human saliva. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 65, 6-10.

24. Kohli, A., Griffiths, S., Palacios, N., Twyman, R.M., Vain, P., Laurie, D.A. and Christou, P. (1999). Molecular characterization of transforming plasmid rearrangements in transgenic rice reveals a recombination hotspot in the CaMV 35S promoter and confirms the predominance of microhomology mediated recombination. The Plant Journal 17, 591-601.

25. Xiong, Y. and Eickbush, T.H. (1990). Origin and evolution of retroelements based upon their reverse transcriptase sequences. EMBO J. 9, 3353-3362.

26. Firbank, L.G. Dewar, A.M., Hill, M.O., May, M.J., Perry, J.N., Rothery, O.P., Squire, G.R. and Woiwod, I.P. (1999). Farm-scale evaluation of GM crops explained. Nature 399, 727-8.

27. See Pretty, J. (1995). Sustainable Agriculture, Earthscan, London; also Pretty, J. (1998). The Living Land - Agriculture, Food and Community Regeneration in Rural Europe, Earthscan, London.

World Scientists' Statement

World Scientists' Statement launched in Cartegena, Columbia, (Feb. 1999)

during the UN Convention of Biological Diversity Conference on the International Biosafety Protocol, calling on all governments to:

* Impose an immediate moratorium on further environmental releases of transgenic crops, food and animal-feed products for at least 5 years.

* Ban patents on living organisms, cell lines and genes.

* Support a comprehensive, independent public enquiry into the future of

agriculture and food security for all, taking account of the full range of scientific findings as well as socioeconomic and ethical implications.

Signed (126 scientists from 24 countries):

Angela Fehringer, Anthropology Student, Sydney, Australia
Dr. Ted Steele, Molecular Immunologist, U. Wollengong, Australia
Stephen Glanville PDC, ECOS Design, Australia
Margaret Jackson, BSc. Genetics, National Genetics Awareness Alliance,
Dr Farhad Mazhar, Ecologist, New Agricultural Movement, Bangladesh
Renata Menasche, Agronomist, Anthropology Undergrad. Federal Un. of Rio
Grand du Sul, Brazil
Paulo Roberto Martins, Research Institute of Technology, Brazil
Dr Thomas R. Preston, Un. of Tropical Agriculture, Cambodia
Prof. David Suzuki, Geneticist, U.B.C., Canada
Prof. Joe Cummins, Geneticist, University of Western Ontario, Canada
Dr Warren Bell, MD, Canad. Assoc. of Physicians for the Environ., Canada

Prof. Abby Lippman, Epidemologist & Geneticist, McGill Un. Canada
Prof. Ronald Labonte, Population Health Research Director, Ontario,
Prof. Marijan Jost, Plant Geneticist, Agricultural College, Krizevci,
Prof Anton Svajger, Uni. Zagreb Medical School, Croatia
Vesna Samobor, M.Sc. Agricultural College, Krizevci, Croatia
Damir Magdic, M.Sc. Food Scientist, Osijek Uni., Croatia
Damjan Bogdanovic, PhD candidate, Uni Zagreb, Croatia
Dr. Tewolde Egziabher, Agronomist, Min. of the Environment, Ethiopia
Dr. Herve Le Meur, Biomathematician, Uni. Paris, France
Dr. Christine von Weisaeker, Ecoropa, Germany
Dr Christiane Boecker, MCommH, Community Health, Haiti
Prof. Ervin Laszlo, President, The Club of Buddapest, Hungary
Dr. Vandana Shiva, Research Institute for Science and Ecology, India
Dr. Muhua Achary, Environmentalist, St. Joseph's College, Bangalore,
Dr. Bruno D'Udine, Behaviour Ecologist, University of Udine, Italy
Dr Giorgio Cingolani, Agricultural Economist, Italy
Prof. Atuhiro Sibatani, Molecular Biologist, Osaka, Japan
Dr Shiron Sugita, Plant Geneticist, Nagoya Uni. Japan
Dr Noeoru Tagishita, Plant Geneticist, Jap. Assoc. Agro-Nature, Tokyo,
Dr. Shingo Shibata, Biosafety and Environmental Sociologist, Japan
Dr Machiko Yasukohchi, PLAN - International Japan Public Relations
Jaroen Compeerapap, Environmental Law and Development Center, The
Dr Robert Mann, Ecologist, Auckland, New Zealand
Dr Peter R Wills, Theoretical Biology, Uni. Auckland, New Zealand
Prof. Terje Traavik, Virologist, University of Tromso, Norway
Dr Ingrid Olesen, Senior Research Scientist, Institute of Aquaculture
Ltd, Norway
Prof. Oscar B. Zamora, Agronomist, Uni. Phillipines, Los Banos,
Dr. Pamela G. Fernadez, Agronomist, Uni. Phllipines, Los Banos,
Dr Gregorio Alvar, Biotechnologist,. Computense Uni. Madrid, Spain
Dr. Javier Blasco, Aragonese Ctr Rural European Information, Spain
Dr. Katarina Leppanen, History of Ideas, Gothenburg Uni, Sweden
Florianne Koechlin, Biologist, World Wildlife Fund, Switzerland
Verena Soldati, Biotechnologist, Basler Appell, Switzerland.
Dr. Daniel Amman, Cell Biologist, Tech. Switzerland
Dr. Ruth Goseth, Dermatologist, ISDE, Switzerland
Yves Schatzle, Agronomist and Economist, Switzerland
Prof. Omboom Luanratana, Pharmacologist, Univ. of Mahedol, Bangkok,
Brian Hursey, ex. FAO Senior Officer for Vector Borne Diseases, Neath,
Prof. Arpad Pusztai, Biochemist, Formerly from Rowett Institute, UK
Dr. Susan Bardocz, Geneticist, Aberdeen, UK
Dr. Colin L.A. Leakey, Plant Geneticist, Cambridge, UK
Dr. Harash Narang, Pathologist, BSE expert, UK
Prof. Richard Lacey, Microbiologist, Leeds, UK
Dr. Michael Antoniou, Molecular Geneticist, Guy's Hospital, UK
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Geneticist and Biophysicist, Open University, UK
Dr J. M. Kerr, Bioethics, Winchester College: Oxford U. UK
Fatima Pelica, Biochemist, PhD Candidate, JII, UK
Dr Tom Wakeford, Biologist, Uni. of East London, UK
Peter Preston Jones, MSc, Environomental Campaigner, UK
Prof. Brian Goodwin, Biologist, Schumacher College, UK
Patrick Holden, Director, Soil Association, UK
Dr. Eva Novotny, Biologist, Uni. Cambridge (retired), UK
Prof. Ian Stewart, Biomathematics, Uni. Warwick, UK
Dr. Vyvyan Howard, Toxipathologist, Uni. Liverpool, UK
Lynda Birke , Biologist, Liverpool Uni. Veterinary School, UK
Prof. Peter Saunders, Biomathematician, Uni. London, UK
Prof. Tim Ingold, Anthropologist, Uni. Manchester, UK
Dr. Robert C. Poller, Organic Chemist, Uni. London, UK
Gordon Daly P.hD student, Gene Therapist, Kennedy Inst. London, UK
Stuart Daly P.hD student, Transgenic group, Charing Cross Hosp. UK
Dr. John E. Hammond, Engineer, Highfeild, UK
Dr. Philip Kilner, Cardiologist, Royal Brompton & Harefield, UK
Dani Kaye M.Sc. Scientists for Global Responsibility London, UK
David Kaye M.Sc. Scientists for Global Responsibility, London, UK
Angela Ryan, Molecular biologist, Open Uni. UK
Prof. David Packham, Material Scientist, Uni. Bath, UK
Dr. David J Heaf, Biochemist, Wales, UK
Dr. Alan Currier, Taxonomist, IRBV, UK
Dr. Gesa Staats de Yanes, Veterinarian Toxicologists, Uni. Liverpool, UK

Barbara Wood-Kaczmar, M.Sc., Science writer, UK
Dr. Gene S. Thomas, Agriculturist, UK
Dr. David A.H. Birley, General Medical Practitioner, Swindon, UK
Prof. Martha Crouch, Biologist, Indiana University, USA
Prof. Ruth Hubbard, Biologist, Harvard University, USA
Prof. Phil Bereano, Council for Responsible Genetics, Uni. Washington
Prof. Martha Herbert , Pediatric Neurologist, Mass. Gen. Hosp. USA
Prof. David Schwartzman, Geochemist, Howard Uni. Washington DC USA
Prof. John Garderineer, Biologist, Uni. Michigan USA
Dr John Fagan, Genetics ID, Washington, USA
Dr. Britt Bailey, Senior Researcher, CETOS, Ca, USA
Dr. Marc Lappe, Geneticist and Director CETOS, Ca, USA
Dr Michael W Fox, Veterinarian & Bioethicist, Washington DC, USA
Dr Walter Bortz, Physician, Palo Alto, USA
Dr. Mahua Acharya, Biologist, USA
Anne-Marie Mayer, Ph. D. candidate, Nutrition, Cornell Univ., USA
Dr. Catherine Badley, Biologist, University of Michigan USA
Dr. Gerald Smith, Zoologist, Uni. Michigan, USA
Vuejuin McKersen M.Sc, Natural Resource Manager, Uni. Michigan, USA
Dr. John Soluri, Historian of Science, Carnegie Mellon Uni, USA
Juiet S Erazo, PhD student, Uni. of Michigan USA
Dr. Juette Peufecto, Biologist, Uni. of Michigan USA
U.V. Kutzli, Ph.D. Candidate, Uni. of Michigan USA
Kristin Cobelius, M.Sc. Student, Uni. Michigan USA
Lena S Nicolai, PhD Student, Uni. of Michigan, USA
Marial Peelle, Biol./Anthropologist Undergrad. Swarthmors College USA
Dr. Ty Fitzmorris, Ecologist, Hampshire College USA
Dr. Caros R Ramirez, Biologist, St Lawrance University USA
Rosa Vazquez, Student in Biology, Ohio State University USA
Sean Lyman, Student, Gettysbury College, USA
Ryan White, Student, St Lawrence University, USA
Dr Jack Kloppenburg, Un. Wisconsin, Rural Sociologist, USA
Dr. Nancy A Schult, Entomologist, Uni. of Wisconsin-Madison USA
Dr. Brian Schultz, Ecologist, Hampshire College USA
Dr. Douglas H Boucher, Ecologist, Hood College USA
Dr. Timothy Mann, Geographer, Hampshire College
Chris Picone M.Sc. Soil Microbiologist, Uni. Michigan USA
Dr. Peter M. Rosset, Ins. for Food and Development Policy, USA
Dr. Ignacio Chapela, Microbiologist & Ecologist, U.C. Berkeley, USA
Dr. Ingrid C. Northwood, Biochemist, Simon Fraser University, USA
Prof. Ed Daniel, Health Sciences Centre, McMaster University, Ca, USA
Dr Linda Jean Sheperd, Biochemist, Gaia Blessings, USA
Dr Herve Grenier, Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Change, Univ.
U.V. Kutzli, Ph.D. Candidate, Uni. of Michigan USA
Alex Jack, Planetary Medicine, Jushi Institute, Becket, Mass, USA
Philip H Howard, Ph.D candidate, Rural Sociology, Uni. of Missouri, USA

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