Before the lifting of the GE moratorium in 2002 New Zealand was GE free in field and food. As of July 2012 the trans-Tasman body Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) have approved all of the 53 applications of 71 GE plant lines into our country.
A report by 3 Genetic engineers in June 2012 details the myths and truths about GMO’s.
In September 2012 the XII conference for International Biotechnology, was held in Rotorua. Monsanto’s VP Biotechnology, Prof Robert Reiter, was one of ten keynote speakers at the conference which also includes representatives from Du Pont and Swiss-based investment firm Festel Capital.
Two months later the discovery of GE in supplementary animal feed, predominantly being given to NZ dairy cows elicited little comment from fonterra or Federated Farmers. The feed imported from Australia, compromises NZ’s $10 billion dollar dairy industry. No animal feed is now labelled GE free and by law it does not have to be labelled but this compromises the consumers and farmers right to know.
Avaaz have a petition against GMO’s in NZ dairy.
This discovery was soon followed by the annoucement that uncrushed GE seed had ben found in a cottonseed meal shipment also sourced from Australia. The shipment arrived into the South Island, thankfully an area which is not conducive to growing the crop.
The 15th round of negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, held in Auckland in December, puts current GMO labelling at risk. The Biotech Industry Organisation, one of the 600 coporate lobbyists privy to the secret document, have said they want GMO labelling restricted under the TPPA. At the moment, in NZ any food with more than 1% GM content has to be labelled. Supermarkets don’t typically stock GM products because they know consumers dont like them, but we wont have that choice and neither will they if labelling laws are revoked. 83% of New Zealanders are in favour of GM labelling.
As early as 1988 GE field trials were carried out by Lincoln University and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) on broccoli, goats, sheep, and potatoes in the Lincoln region. These trials were approved by the Interim Assessment Group (IAG), which assessed GE organisms prior to the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act being passed in 1996.
The HSNO Act is administered by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA). Anyone who wants to introduce new organisms (non-GE and GE) in New Zealand has to apply to ERMA for approval.
After the 1992 outbreak of BSE in Britain, biotech company PPL relocated to New Zealand to create sheep engineered with a human gene for cystic fibrosis (hAAT). Environment Minister Simon Upton at first turned down the request, as New Zealand then had no laws around GE technology.
In 1994 PPL set up a flock of sheep under IAG approval in Whakamaru. Up to 10,000 conventional ewes were mated with GE rams in order to produce human alpha-1 antitrypsin (hAAT) protein for cystic fibrosis sufferers in the milk of their progeny. The sheep were East Friesians, chosen for their high milk and lambing percentage. But lambing rates were low (6%) and the GE sheep were susceptible to disease and arthritis.
Bayer conducted clinical trials on humans using PPL’s hAAT protein. These were stopped six months into the trials because of immune system and respiratory problems experienced by the participants, and this bankrupted PPL. The 3000 GE sheep were incinerated and buried in the paddock.
The government-owned Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) have approvals for thousands of indoor laboratory experiments to create GE animals and plants. AgResearch joined the outdoor ‘biotechnology revolution’ at their Ruakura site on 200 acres in 2000. Across its many campuses, AgResearch has approval to genetically engineer a wide range of forage legumes, grasses and vegetable plants in laboratory containment and glasshouses. The reason that these are not being trialled in the field is that ‘the climate in New Zealand is not favourable’ to outdoor experiments and they are waiting for a change in opposition to outdoor GE trials.
In 2001 a HortResearch trial in Kerikeri on tamarillos genetically engineered to be resistant to mosaic virus ended. GE-Free Northland raised concerns to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification about the persistence of GE DNA in soil biota, and as a result the Commission recommended post-trial monitoring.
In 2003 Scion (previously the Forest Research Institute) gained approval to field trial GE pine and spruce trees carrying reproductive-altering and herbicide-resistant traits. Breaches in facility maintenance were publicised by Soil & Health spokesman Steffan Browning in the media, including Organic NZ. This led to a person or persons entering the facility and cutting down 19 trees. The trial ended in 2008 but gained further approval in 2009. Another new application for 4000 GE pine trees is being sought by Scion.
In 2004, Crop and Food with partner Seminis (a subsidiary of Monsanto) gained approval for a GE onion field trial at Lincoln. The trials did not perform as expected as the GE onions were infested with thrips and the bulbs did not store well, and the trial ended early. A 2006 application for garlic, onions, leeks and other alliums is on hold.
Crop and Food (now part of Plant and Food) received approval in 2007 to trial GE brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale) that would produce an insecticide (Cry) gene. This trial, conducted at a secret location in Lincoln, breached regulatory controls after only four months, and in 2008 a flowering plant was discovered from unchecked regrowth and publicised by Steffan Browning. The breach was so serious that Plant and Food and MAF-Biosecurity NZ closed down the trial site. There are no field trials running in the area at the moment.