Review shows that NZ is not ready for GE production – time for Organics to lead the way

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The Review of the Forty-Nine Recommendations of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification released today by Sustainable Future, reinforces the deep concerns recently expressed by the Soil & Health Association of NZ about GE decision making and field tests.

Sustainable Future Ltd is a sustainable research and think tank organisation that has undertaken an extensive review of the 2001 Royal Commission on Genetic Modification’s warrant and recommendations, and the government level of acceptance and implementation of the recommendations.

“Particularly significant is the Reviews finding that although recommended by the Royal Commission in 2001, investigation into potential adverse effects of GE in the environment has been at a low to zero level, and protection for beekeepers and co-existence systems between GE and non GE producers has not been devised,” says Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.

“The poor implementation of the Royal Commissions recommendations means that once again a crisis of direction for Aotearoa New Zealand’s future with genetic engineering has emerged.”

“The new knowledge of major shortcomings in GE production, coupled with huge increases in demand for organic and non-GE food and fibre, allows New Zealand to use this opportunity to stop GE in its tracks and maximise a GE Free, clean green and 100% Pure brand in the world.”

The Sustainable Future review noted that the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification in 2001 had taken a middle path of neither totally accepting GE, nor totally precluding GE, but took a position called ‘preserving opportunities’ and formulated 49 recommendations that included allowing for non-GE producers to be able to maintain production, organic or otherwise, without fear of GE contamination.

“Lack of implementation of the Commission’s recommendations means that cannot happen unless GE development stops,” says Mr Browning. “The Royal Commission failed to consider the GE Free option fully and Sustainable Future have shown today that that opportunity is once again here.”

“The Sustainable Future report findings, that only 41% of the Royal Commission’s recommendations have been fully implemented and none of the ‘Crops and other field uses’ recommendations were implemented, shows government disregard for the 70% of New Zealanders who do not want GE food production here.”

“The decision making process by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) has meant granting of GE field trials without the prior research anticipated by the Royal Commission, and the current application by Crop & Food that would allow flowering of onion crops and no soil studies ahead of the trial, is so likely to be granted that making submissions against it is a likely waste of time.”

Soil & Health has repeated concerns about the legislative gaps and submission and decision making process directly to senior ERMA officials, just three weeks ago.

Two examples of the 29 recommendations by the Royal Commission not implemented are (1) that GE crops need to be excluded from regions where their presence would be a significant threat to an established non-GE crop and (2) that MAF provide a strategy to ensure that honey is not contaminated with GE pollen.

“If the proposed GE field trials on onion, garlic, leeks, shallots and spring onions go ahead, these plants will go to flower and seed. Even if the flowers are covered, it is possible that bees may get access to them and that honey be contaminated. This could potentially spell the end of New Zealand’s reputation as a producer of excellent quality, GE-free honey,” says Soil & Health Councillor and former Crop & Food GE scientist Elvira Dommisse.

“As the Sustainable Future team have found that with a lack of preparedness for full release of GE organisms, due to insufficient Royal Commission recommendations being implemented, there is also the possibility of New Zealand pursuing GE Free food production,” says Mr Browning.

“ What is now required is a government commitment that recognised the unique GE Free branding opportunities that our country could enjoy, with organics poised to maximise that economic benefit.”

Soil & Health is opposed to genetic engineering in food and environment and has a vision of an Organic 2020.