GE Food Debate Heats Up in New Zealand

GE Food Debate Heats Up in New Zealand

Financial Times
Global News Wire

July 31, 2001

By Robert Lowe of NZPA

Sydney, July 31 - Australian opponents of genetically engineered (GE)
food today attacked the New Zealand royal commission's report as
promoting gene technology by default.

However, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) said the
findings were in line with its stance of giving industry and consumers the
right to make their own choice.

The commission, in a report presented yesterday, said it was impractical''
to keep GE organisms out of New Zealand.
It suggested all forms of agriculture should be allowed, but urged caution
in introducing a GE crop.

The Melbourne-based Australian GeneEthics Network said the commission
had recklessly sacrificed'' New Zealand's chance to remain a GE-free country.

''It hedges its bets and facilitates the introduction, albeit with a bit of
precaution, of gene technology,'' director Bob Phelps said.
''It seems to make a commitment to the view that we will have gene
technology, whether we like it or not.'' Mr Phelps described as rash'' the
suggestion that New Zealand could embrace genetic engineering and still
retain its clean, green image.

He said there was little evidence yet that diverse farming systems could
co-exist with GE crops.

GeneEthics is a federation of groups and individuals concerned with the
impact of GE technologies.
Mr Phelps said the commission's report would have some influence in
Australia among policy makers.

''Several state governments are also doing reports, so it will be another
piece of the jigsaw, another view that people will be looking at,'' he said.

Organic Federation of Australia chairman Scott Kinnear said he was
concerned the commission could be drawing conclusions that were not

Stressing that he had not yet seen a copy of the report but was relying on
newspaper reports, Mr Kinnear said the view that organic farming could
co-exist with GE technology was in huge and hot dispute''.

''The evidence, certainly with corn and canola, is that there is serious
contamination right through the whole of the United States,'' he said.
''I would have thought that a responsible finding would have been to say
that there are serious issues of co-mingling and that, if these cannot be
addressed, then releases should not proceed.'' Mr Kinnear said he might
be cynical, but he wasn't surprised by the report's conclusions.

''The international focus on this royal commission was extraordinary,'' he

''The lobby pressure brought to bear was unquestionably one of the biggest
attempts to get a particular outcome that we've seen anywhere in the
world.'' Meanwhile, the AFGC said the commission's findings were similar to
the council's own stance of providing consumers with the information to make
informed choices for themselves.

Council chief executive Mitchell Hooke said the report would give confidence
to Australian states and territories, and other countries still embroiled in
debate over GE technology.

He said the commission had effectively dismissed the range of unfounded

''In doing so, the royal commission has sanctioned industry's access to the
technology and consumers' access to its products.'' Mr Hooke said that, in
three key issues, the commission had found that GE food was safe to eat, the
regulations governing the technology was rigorous and labelling rules
allowed consumers to make informed choices

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