The approval by the United States GE regulator for 260,000 New Zealand raised genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees for 28 field trials through seven US states is not something for New Zealand to be proud of, according to the Soil & Health Association of NZ. (1)
“New Zealand trades on a clean green 100% Pure brand and the best value customers for New Zealand are the discerning first world baby boomer consumers that choose GE free, animal friendly, sustainably produced and organic type products. Thousands of those potential customers submitted in opposition to the NZ raised GE trees.” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.
“Last year Jim Hightower, a twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner and U.S. national commentator described the then intended growing as “Irresponsible, Dangerous, and Stupid. Hightower, who identified the trees as sourced from New Zealand, broadcasts daily radio commentaries carried by more than 150 commercial and public stations, as well as on the web.” (2)
The United States Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) yesterday approved applications by ArborGen, a biotechnology company owned by three big forest products companies: International Paper and MeadWestvaco of the United States, and Rubicon of New Zealand. The applications allow the trees to flower in 27 of the 28 trial sites.
The 260,000 GE eucalypts were grown in New Zealand by Horizon 2, which is based near Whakatane, and part of Rubicon’s (ex Fletcher Forests) partnership ArborGen. ArborGen also has a collaborative GE tree development contract with Scion, the former Forest Research Institute.
The USDA confirmed it had received comments opposing the field trial from 12,462 people or organizations, compared with only 45 supporters of the trial. However environmental groups had thought up to 17,000 people had submitted.
“The USDA discounted the importance of many submissions due their being nearly identical form letters, but those submitters came from environmental and consumer organisations whose members match the type of consumers identified as New Zealand’s best value customers,” said Mr Browning.
“Just last week Agriculture Minister David Carter reminded dairy farmers at their conference that New Zealand’s best value markets were those aware of our clean green image and were becoming more discerning, saying, “Our international customers are becoming more discerning. If we are to satisfy their demands, we must recognise their concerns.” (3)
New Zealand cannot have it both ways according to Soil & Health.
“Significant conversion to more sustainable and organic primary production is in keeping with the identified market advantage but sustainable best value production cannot coexist with GE crops or exports.”
“New Zealand is essentially GE free with only two GE field trial locations operating and one of them subject to legal appeals by GE Free NZ. However continued involvement with giant biotech firms by New Zealand researchers and companies threatens disestablishing New Zealand’s GE free status.”
AgResearch wants to expand development of GE animals in New Zealand for the United States dominant biopharmaceutical company, Genzyme, and intends the introduction of GE ryegrass and clover into New Zealand pastures. Scion, has a new GE pine tree trial at Rotorua, and with Rubicon is involved with the export of hundreds of thousands of GE trees for ArborGen, the worlds giant biotech tree company. Rubicon has stated that it wants commercialisation of GE forests in New Zealand to have less regulatory impediments.
“Scion and Rubicon’s involvement with large-scale GE brings shame to New Zealand’s clean, green GE free reputation as when the UN Convention on Biological Diversity has been grappling with designing controls for GE trees, New Zealand sided with pro-GE countries, opposing others who were calling for suspension of GE tree release until more conclusive proof of environmental safety was available,” says Mr Browning. (4)
“Scion scientists then reported without independent review, that their brief field trials proved environmental safety. The report was treated with disdain by other scientists.” (5)
“Poor science with a New Zealand label also has the potential to ruin the clean green reputation that New Zealand’s biggest earners, primary production and tourism, currently enjoy.”
Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020 and is opposed to GE in food and environment.
Heinemann, J.A., and T. Traavik. 2004. Problems in monitoring horizontal gene transfer in field trials of transgenic plants. Nat. Biotechnol. 22:1105-1109.