GE free march Auckland 2003
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The battle for the future of food

Jon Carapiet outlines why the push for automatic acceptance of unproven technologies that have the potential to irreversibly contaminate our food and environment (aka GE) is the wrong direction.
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Governmental plans to liberalise regulation of genetic engineering in Aotearoa New Zealand has implications for consumers and our export markets.

The push for GE is part of the international industry lobbying for more technology in agriculture. GE, AI, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology are converging. Advocates for the ‘end of farming’ are even calling for cellular lab-based food to entirely replace agriculture, purportedly to save the planet.

Public concern around genetic engineering is expressed politically and in people’s preferences which have defined today’s consumer landscape.

Politicians and lobbyists who say that strict regulation of GE is preventing innovation have forgotten the role of the consumer. They repeat old hopes for GE ryegrass, even after Newsroom published a history of failed trials on its website last year, and ignore previous field trials including 4000 GM sheep which were terminated in 2003 when the company PPL went bankrupt, and AgResearch’s GE cows reported by the NZ Herald in 2010 to be suffering cruel deformities.

The central question is: To what extent will the coalition government favour the commercial interests of the biotechnology industry over those of the environment and the public good?

National Party policy is to move regulation to a new agency under The Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE) with automatic acceptance of GE products once approved by two OECD countries, and a much easier path to commercial release.

But what’s most important for regulation in the public interest is missing.

There is no mention of the importance of the Precautionary Principle for environmental protection. No requirement for commercial insurance or liability on users of GE that cause harm. No ethical framework to prevent cruelty to animals or guide the future. No mention of Māori or Waitangi Treaty principles.
And there is no mention of how the new regime will protect organic growers (or even industrialised growers) from GE contamination.

These missing pieces must be priorities for legislation.

Organic agriculture provides authentic sustainability and real climate action that people are looking for.
Research by Kantar Consulting shows New Zealand has what the world wants. “Consumers want more control and to reconnect with nature,” said researcher Dan Robertson-Jones.

The market demand for GE-free is growing.

Growth for non-GMO food is projected to reach US$144,322 million in 2031. Consumers in China and India are driving up demand for non-GMO food products.

Consumers want gene edited foods to be regulated and labelled, with 75 percent of US consumers and 80 percent of UK consumers supporting traceability for New Genomic Techniques (NGTs).
Exporters and the coalition government must take heed.

Consumer trust is vital. Leading brands have committed to avoid GE ingredients in response.
IFOAM standards exclude use of GE and build trust in the sector through certification of organics. Mandatory labelling of GE food in supermarkets has allowed consumers to influence the market.
Both major supermarkets have a GE-free policy for house-brands, including Countdown’s Own, Macro (Woolworths), and Pams (Foodstuffs).

Fonterra has a non-GMO policy but is open to GE and investing in lab-grown meat.

The science debate.

The EU Commission proposes deregulation of NGTs, against the wishes of consumers.
This is opposed by EU Ministers of the Environment who strongly support the Precautionary Principle and traceability.

Independent scientists with expertise in issues of GE safety and the environment have warned against deregulation.

Expert advice from scientists who are independent of the biotechnology industry is important. The commercial pressures in business and academia for Intellectual Property (IP) bring potential conflicts of interest in the debate.

There is a strong global lobby for cellular agriculture, synthetic biology, and GE.

In the conversation about GE we should expect more public relations hype, promises for the future, and criticism of the Precautionary Principle for ‘stopping progress’. The scientific rationale for precaution will be smeared as fearmongering. It’s already happening.

WePlanet, which campaigns for nuclear power, GE and cellular agriculture, organised an open letter signed by 34 Nobel prize winners and others.

It says the EU must “reject the darkness of anti-science fearmongering and look instead towards the light of prosperity and progress” by deregulating New Genomic Techniques.

The industry pipeline for GE shows why it is of the utmost importance for regulation to protect people and the environment.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) warn of the impending risks of commercial release of GE microbes as biotechnology companies develop GE bacteria, viruses, and fungi for use in agriculture.

Environmental groups are sounding the alarm for bees and pollinators after the US EPA approved the first sprayable pesticides using ‘RNA interference’ in the field.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says research is needed into the alleged benefits for sustainability and safety of lab-grown food which remain speculative.

We must value existing natural diversity and regenerative organic systems as real action on climate change and against biodiversity loss. The biotechnology industry should not define the future of food.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Alan Lieftin – GE free march Auckland 2003)


Jon Carapiet is a consumer advocate, researcher, writer, and photographer who has followed the GE debate for over two decades. He regularly comments in the media about Brand New Zealand, the advantages of non-GMO and organic production, and for regulation of new technology in the public interest. Prior to the 2023 election, he published a series of blogs on GE and the future of food, available at  www.TheDailyBlog.co.nz. He is a Trustee for Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility (PSGR) www.psgr.org.nz, and the national spokesman for community group GE-Free NZ www.gefree.org.nz.

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