Today’s Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) decision approving a Crop and Food application to field trial brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and forage kale) genetically engineered with a toxin derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis(Bt), lacks justification in New Zealand’s new era of sustainability, and is full of contradictions, according to Soil & Health’s spokesperson Steffan Browning.
“ERMA has yet to decline an application for a GE field trial, and appears to look for a way to approve, regardless of how shonky the application is. This shows that ERMA is biased towards genetic engineering in clean green New Zealand, regardless of the community’s opposition,” said Mr Browning, adding, “that not running food safety feeding trials ahead of field trials of GE crops is a nonsense.”
“Why grow a crop that is potentially toxic to humans and animals for ten years without first establishing if it is even potentially edible?”
The ERMA Committee states that “GM brassicas will be prevented from entering the human food chain and a further application to the Authority for a release approval would be necessary before effects on food safety and food choice would arise. Therefore, the Committee did not consider the effects on food safety and food choices further for this application.”
“That the GE Bt brassica’s are ultimately intended for commercial release, yet have not undergone feeding studies to ensure food safety, makes this trial a serious potential waste of tax payers money, said Mr Browning, ” Animals are sick and dying in India from eating cotton also modified with Bt toxins and cotton workers have health issues. Feed studies also show health risks from other Bt engineered crops.”
“The ERMA decision appears to be predicated heavily on upskilling of scientists and increasing experience in working with gene technology in the field. The decision expects marginal public benefit however, and ERMA states, “This beneficial effect will accrue to the applicant and the staff involved in this field test and is considered to be of minimal value. A public benefit accruing to the wider scientific community when papers are published describing the research and its results (particularly in the area of impacts on the soil biota of GM plants) would be of minor value. However, this may be very unlikely to be realised.”
“Despite ERMA receiving 941submissions of objection, many advocating an organic alternative for New Zealand and the overwhelming desire for a clean green country, the ERMA decision merely states, “Given the contained nature of this field test, the Committee did not identify any significant adverse effects on society and community.”
“New Zealand’s markets are already concerned with food miles, and will not like the signals that clean green NZ is intending commercial production of GE vegetables sometime”, said Mr Browning.
ERMA’s decision in considering alternatives, states, “The Committee considers that the primary goals of this field test are to assess the agronomic performance of these GM plants under natural environmental conditions, the resistance of GM brassicas to insect pests, and to assess the environmental impacts of these GM brassicas.”,
and after suggesting the field test, “provides a valuable opportunity for experimental work to assess the impacts of GM brassica plants on the soil biota, non-target organisms, and the persistence of DNA sequences and Cry proteins in the soil.”,
then states, “The Committee notes that there is some uncertainty regarding the potential for meaningful information on the environmental impacts of growing GM brassicas to be obtained given the limitations of scale inherent in this field test.”
Soil & Health points out however funding was uncertain for the limited work that ERMA notes as valuable, that other Crown Research Agencies would be required to assist in, and spokesperson Steffan Browning, adds that, “it would be wasting resources considering public opposition and the unlikely commercialisation of the brassicas, if the current level of security required to protect GE trial crops was to be continued.”
In considering the potentially significant adverse effects on the market economy, ERMA states, “that since this application is for a small-scale contained field test with a fixed time period after which all plants will be removed, the potentially significant adverse and beneficial effects associated with this application are not economic in nature.”
However New Zealand farmers, the community and customers of the riches of a clean green land may see it differently according to Mr Browning and the ramifications of field tests trialling GE food crops, although at risk of sabotage, will send messages contrary to that of Prime Minister Helen Clark’s desire for New Zealand to be the worlds first truly sustainable country, and National’s John Key a week ago, “New Zealand’s clean green environment is vital to the Kiwi way of life and vital to the image New Zealand sells to the world,” both messages that Soil & Health agrees with.
Soil & Health will be discussing with other groups, potential further action against the field trial, as it is committed to true sustainability and a GE Free future.