New Zealand & Korean Activists Take Direct Action Against GE Crops
Toad Gene Potatoes Uprooted in New Zealand
By Andrew Darby
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, March 16, 1999 (ENS) - The destruction by green
activists of potatoes partly modified with toad-like genes has set alight
the widening food genetics controversy in New Zealand.
The Wild Greens group said 12 activists walked at night onto a plot of the
Lincoln University's Crop and Food Research Institute near Christchurch,
and uprooted potatoes being tested for commercial viability.
"We didn't do it to be elite commandos," said a Wild Greens spokesman,
Nandor Tanczos. "We are not vandals trying randomly to destroy crops."
Instead, he said they wanted a moratorium on genetically engineered foods
until their safety was assured, and an independent national inquiry was set
The long running research project included mixing the genes of potatoes
with artificial genes, like some possessed by both toads and silkworms,
which were hoped to make the universal vegetable more rot-resistant.
The mainstream Green Party in New Zealand said some potatoes also contained
cauliflower mosaic virus, found by a British researcher to lead to severe
physiological problems in rats.
The chief executive of the institute, Dr. Michael Dunbier, told the local
Christchurch Press newspaper that more than a year's work by three doctoral
students was destroyed. Of more immediate concern
was the prospect that the raiders risked spreading genetically modified
Tanczos said the raiders left their clothes behind deliberately to isolate
the genetically modified material, but other environmental groups said the
risk of transferring disease remained too great.
"Greenpeace does not support pulling of plants because it could increase
the risk of dispersal, and it is also property destruction," said
campaigner Stephanie Mills.
Instead Mills said politicians should make policy decisions about
genetically engineered foods and meantime consumers should exercise
The raid comes in a heated New Zealand political climate, with an election
widely anticipated, and Tanczos seeking candidacy in the city of Auckland.
Tanczos, 30, a social ecologist, represents the Legalise Cannabis Party and
is also a campaigner for the Green Party.
At the same time, jointly with its economically linked neighbour Australia,
New Zealand is moving towards some requirements for labelling of
genetically modified products.
But the Green Party's co-leader, Jeanette Fitzimons, said in a statement
she did not believe there had been adequate consultation on the issue, and
it was impossible to tell if genetically engineered crops, such as those
destroyed, were safe.
"There has been no broader debate on whether we even want this stuff grown
here at all. That's why I called for a Royal Commission into this."
For the institute, Dr. Dunbier said he could understand the views of
politicians with an election in sight. But he said the media had failed to
understand the trade-off between benefits and risks that the topic demanded.
He called for guidelines to improve the way emerging science was communicated.
Dr. Tony Conner, Crop & Food Research gene technology scientist, said the
uprooted potato plants had been genetically modified to resist the
bacterial soft rot disease, a major problem for New Zealand's potato
industry. Resistance to bacterial soft rot would improve potato tuber
quality and reduce pesticide use. This work should lead to reduced
pesticide residues in soils and ground water.
There were also potato plants genetically modified to increase resistance
to potato tuber moth. Benefits of this work include environmental
enhancement and sustainability by reducing pesticide
residues in soils and ground water, as well as enhancing genetic diversity
within potato germplasm, Dr. Conner said.
Environment News Service (ENS) 1999. All Rights Reserved.
Title: Korean Action Against Genetic Crops
Korean students and environmental activists today organized a direct
action against the irresponsible use of GM(genetically-modified)
technology, at the center of Korean agricultural biotechnology - the
National Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (NIAST).
NIAST, funded by the Korean Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
(MAF), proclaims itself to be the key research institute responsible
for the development of sustainable agricultural technologies that are
environment-friendly. However, it was revealed last year that NIAST
had secretly carried out the field trials of GM crops even though
Korea did not have anylegislations regarding the release of GMOs
into the environment.
On February this year, the Rural Development Administration (RDA)
announced that NIAST developed eight different GM crops, including
Rice, Cayenne,Chinese cabbage, Tobacco, and Tomato. According to the
RDA, these GM crops will be put on market by 2001. And yet, the
Korean government keeps silent about the issues of biosafety and
The action started at 11 a.m. when about ten students and activists
occupied and blockaded the greenhouse at the NIAST, where the field
trials of GM crops were being conducted. They placed a big banner
with the "X" symbol over the greenhouse, and chained themselves to
its entrance. Other activists demonstrated outside the greenhouse
with placards raised, which read "No Genetic Engineering".
"Koreans are shaken by the fact that the government allows the field
trials of GM crops while it does not even have a legislation or
agency to monitor and regulate the experiments," said one
participant. "Genetic engineering is good for the economy, they say.
But can this be a good excuse for ignoring the environment, public
health and ethical considerations?" "We're here today to let the
government and those researchers involved know how the public feels
about their incompetence, arrogance, and lack of responsibility."
The students and activists called for:
1) Immediate ban on the release of GMOs into the environment
(including GM foods and field trials)
2) Immediate ban on the import of GM crops and foods.
3) Moratorium on agricultural R&Ds using GM technology.
until strict legislations regarding biosafety and bioethics have been
enacted and come into force.
They also demanded:
4) Establishment of an independent institution to organize
democratic debates on the health, ecological, societal and ethical
consequences of Genetic Engineering.
5) Democratic participation in the regulatory decision-making.
The action wasstopped around 3 p.m. when the police intervened to
break the protest. Some of the activists and students were arrested
and were released after being held for 3 hours.