Summary of the recent NZ Royal Commission on Genetic Modification

Summary of the recent NZ Royal Commission on Genetic Modification

Malice in Blunderland - GE decision follows the same old blueprint

Twenty years of the "New Zealand Experiment" have taught the NZ Royal
Commission on Genetic Modification nothing. They wasted $6.5 million
of taxpayer money producing a report written by the gene jockey
industry which just gave New Zealand some more empty slogans -
"Bio-tech Revolution" & "Knowledge Economy" - and lost that country
probably its only chance this century to make a real difference. Chris
Wheeler surveys 20 years of Kiwi blundering in the dark.

(Auckland, New Zealand, August 1st, 2001) New Zealand has lost the
opportunity of a lifetime to ban general field release of genetically
engineered food crops and maintain this island nation's developing
status as one of the last producers of genuinely GE-free and organic
food crops on the planet. A farming nation that has most recently
built a reputation on winning boat races has totally missed the boat
on the one issue it could have easily built a world marketing
advantage around, and demonstrated in the world spotlight just how
open to political manipulation a government-appointed advisory body
can be.

International focus has been on New Zealand for the past twelve months
as a Royal Commission on Genetic Modification deliberated the issues
surrounding genetic engineering and New Zealand was being widely seen
as a test bed for the whole GE debate with far-reaching implications
for the scientific as well as the commercial arguments in the case.
Unfortunately, any hope of a proper examination of the issues involved
was doomed from the outset by the nature of the Commission itself and
the way it conducted its affairs by legal cross-examination.

Four elderly, well-intentioned, but gullible, middle class New
Zealanders - Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, Drs Jacqueline Allan and Jean
Fleming and the Right Reverend Richard Randerson - were, in the end,
led by the nose through a process they lacked the expertise and
intellectual gumption to query, by a team of high-priced legal
counsels employed by major genetic engineering corporates and
consortia whose daily presence ensured that this Royal Commission
could only come up with answers which would favour a genetic
engineering case.

This was neither an objective nor an even-handed appraisal of the
major GE issues.

What the world community of interest in the New Zealand Commission's
deliberations do not know is that access to the Commission was subject
to application being made by the various interest groups involved in
genetic engineering issues and that such applications were then
carefully vetted, ensuring that at least 70 percent of the finally
approved "interested parties" were strongly in favour of the
introduction of genetic engineering. From then on out it was easy to
put a solid PR gloss over proceedings to give the appearance that the
public was being widely consulted.

Yes, public meetings were held. Individuals COULD make written
submissions - and thousands did. Indigenous Maori opinion was sought.
But all this was done accompanied by a tightly controlled publicity
exercise that hid the inevitable reality that the final report would
give virtually no weight to the thousands of anti-GE petitions
received by the Commission.

How it was done

95 percent of the arguments received by the Commission, including
those presented by respected international genetics scientists such as
Drs Peter Wills and Arpad Pusztai, and Monsanto-battling Canadian
farmer Percy Schmeiser, were against genetic engineering, so how did
it come about that its report is so whole-heartedly in support of GE?

Lacking the financial resources and legal expertise to mount an
effective counter campaign and with the largely
international-corporate- owned NZ media against them, the GE
opposition were out-manoeuvred and out-gunned at every turn of the
Commission process by a pro-GE machine that was prepared to throw
immense resources into controlling not only how the Commission itself
would perceive the evidence presented to it, but how the media and
even the greater bulk of opinion makers and politicians in the New
Zealand Parliament would perceive the issues.

It would be wrong, however, to say the Royal Commission was captured
by the GE industry. Its personnel and its agenda was chosen from the
outset to guarantee the result it got - carte blanche approval of the
GE industry's full research and promotion agenda and whole-scale use
of genetic engineering and GE crops and products in New Zealand.

Because there was such wide public opposition to GE (in various polls
over the past two years a majority of NZers have demanded controls
over GE) and because there was such significant and vocal opposition
to its employment by the NZ Green Party, Greenpeace, food safety and
organics lobbies, the NZ Government HAD TO mount a cosmetic exercise
which would give the APPEARANCE of proper public consultation, but
would deliver a verdict comprehensively in favour of genetic

The Commission's report in favour of GE has now become an effective
tool for beating the GE opposition and the Green Party in Parliament
around the head - probably the only reason for this whole $NZ6.5
million taxpayer-funded farce in the first place! As PM Helen Clark,
her Parliamentary colleagues and the GE industry are now saying all
across the NZ media: "You got what you asked for - a complete and
comprehensive review of GE policy and science. The expert view
resulting from the Royal Commission's deliberations is that GE is an
essential part of New Zealand's economic survival and a leading aspect
of our new 'Knowledge Economy' and must be allowed to go ahead with
the minimum of restrictions. Now shut- up. Stop complaining, and
accept the majority opinion."

Of course there are some derisory "controls" being recommended in the
Royal Commission report, but in my past 20 years of direct involvement
in agriculture issues and membership of official bodies deliberating
on environmental control strategies in New Zealand, I have yet to see
effective legislation or regulation controlling ANY aspect of the
agrichemical abuse that New Zealand is notorious for in informed world
environmental circles and GE abuse will fare little better. The
Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) cited in the
Commission's report as the responsible agency overseeing GE trials and
releases has been controlled from the first day of its establishment
several years ago by powerful industry lobby groups with the necessary
financial resources to fight any environmental group's submissions to
a standstill.

For 20 years I have been involved in various attempts to place
effective controls over the profligate application of carcinogenic
pesticides by New Zealand farmers, which contributes to New Zealand's
record levels of breast, prostate and bowel cancer, childhood
leukaemia and birth defects, and have met with continual official
apathy and obstruction, particularly from official regulatory
agencies. I and the knowledgeable anti-GE community in New Zealand
have absolutely no faith in the new GE review apparatus being
suggested by the Commission because we know that just as with
appointments to the food regulatory Australia New Zealand Food
Authority (ANZFA) and ERMA, membership will be heavily weighted with
GE industry stooges and political appointees guaranteed to preserve
the status quo.

Now, with the Royal Commission's recommendation that "conditional
release" of GE food crops be permitted under a cosmetically modified
but virtually unchanged regulatory structure, an opportunity for New
Zealand agriculture to become a world leader in organic production has
been lost forever. Now only Tasmania, off the Australian coast, is
left in the Southern Hemisphere as the one relatively isolated
landmass where a sound GE-free policy could reasonably work.

Why? - the historic background

Knowing New Zealand as well as I do, I have had to continually remind
my offshore friends watching the deliberations of the NZ Royal
Commission on Genetic Modification from the other side of the world,
that New Zealand is truly the land of the sub-editors' joke headline,
"Malice in Blunderland", where the village idiot can attain to
political office and bad decision-making is a national way of life.

The intelligent world out there beyond the seas surrounding New
Zealand needs to understand something of the economic holocaust that
has overtaken this country in the past 20 years in order to fully
comprehend exactly why a GE Commission here could never responsibly
and objectively deal with the ethical and scientific issues involved
in genetic engineering.

Whatever New Zealand's current Prime Minister Helen Clark may say to
the contrary and however much the tiny NZ Green Party who keep the
minority Labour Government in power may protest, this environmentally
beautiful but ethically bankrupt nation still resolutely pursues the
dream of a "Light at the End of the Tunnel" solution to its
self-induced woes - a solution which the wholehearted pursuit of
biotechnology is now seen to be part of.

There is something of a New Guinea Cargo Cult colouring to this
national myth, which makes the addition of genetic engineering to the
dream of eventual deliverance so potentially attractive to the average
New Zealander or Kiwi, as we like to call ourselves.

For nearly twenty years now, Kiwis (appropriately, perhaps, a
flightless bird that digs for worms in the dark) have waited for the
light at the end of the tunnel promised by the 1984 Lange/Douglas
Labour Government, which initiated the savage Milton Friedman/Let
Market Forces Rule bloodbath, while experiencing huge social
dislocation, dramatic drops in household income and spending power,
huge increases in violent and property crime, and the disappearance of
guaranteed employment and leisure time.

Regrettably we never seem to learn, having re- elected in the current
minority Labour Government many of the very team - including the Prime
Minister Helen Clark - who instituted the disastrous "New Zealand
Experiment" in the first place! Clark, it should be added, is a
wholehearted supporter of genetic engineering. The GE Commission's
decision will thus take a fitting place alongside that long list of
disasters that epitomise the past nearly twenty years of New Zealand

In the words of one critic of the Experiment, Murray Dobbin of the
Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives: " There are lessons from New
Zealand, but they do not involve adopting that tortured country as a
model. The first lesson is that the unfettered application of ideology
is inevitably destructive - not just to democracy, social peace and
equality but to the economy. Even as the revolution continued to
deliver disastrous results, its promoters claimed it was because it
had not gone far enough." (1)

Failed promises

Every promise made by 1984 Finance Minister Roger Douglas to justify
the pain New Zealand was to go through has since proved to be a lie.

Growth has not occurred. As Dobbin points out, in the years 1985-92,
average economic growth in the OECD countries totalled 20%, while in
New Zealand it was negative, at minus 1%. Promised creation of
enormous new wealth went into reverse: Real GDP in 1992, at 5%, was
below the 1985-86 level. A burst of growth from 1993 to 1995 petered
out, and the economy steadily declined until it dipped into negative
territory in 1998, posting the fourth-worst growth in the OECD.

This situation has worsened considerably since that time, prompting
Professor Robert Wade of the London School of Economics to warn
attendees at a recent Auckland University economic seminar (2) that
New Zealand has had one of the slowest economic growth rates in the
developed world since 1985 and now risks becoming the first country in
50 years to lose its "developed" status.

The promised removal of overseas debt has only occurred via the sale
of New Zealand, lock, stock and barrel, to overseas corporates. Debt
in 1984 was $NZ22 billion, but after 10 years of experimenting, it had
doubled to $ NZ45 billion - in spite of the sell-off of $NZ16 billion
in government owned assets including state banking, the national
power, rail and telephone services and state public works facilities.

Under the Labour Government "reforms" nearly half a million New
Zealanders have been put out of work in the past fifteen years as
state enterprises like the railways, post and telephone services
dumped workers by the tens of thousands and de-regulation of industry
and the removal of tariff barriers to shoes, clothing, electrical
goods and a host of common consumer items put workers on the dole
queues. As productive factories nationwide were closed down or
bankrupted, production machinery was sold offshore to S.E. Asia,
Indonesia, India, Taiwan and Korea in receivership auctions, skilled
workers migrated and trade education courses closed down as funding
was withdrawn by a succession of governments that declared industrial
skills were not the state's business.

True unemployment in 2001 is probably 16 percent - the highest
anywhere in the developed world - but employment statistics are
typically fudged by a succession of governments which defend Market
Forces mythology as if it was written somewhere on Mosaic tablets of
stone. A youth denied hope in a viable economic future commit suicide
at a rate which has drawn the attention of the WHO and the route of
tertiary education, which in other more effective economies offers a
nation's young hope and a way out in pursuit of professional skills,
is denied by a government- backed policy of crippling User Pays
education fees ensuring education remains the privilege of the
children of the wealthy.

New Zealand is increasingly being promoted to Northern Hemisphere
tourists as a vast Club Med holiday camp and unemployed New
Zealanders, dumped by business close-downs, ordered into re- training
as casino black-jack dealers, hotel cleaners, taxi-drivers and tourist
guides. The New Zealand Parliament in the meantime has voted itself
huge pay increases as a reward for its ineptitude in governance,
stripped away the last laws limiting the power of international
corporates, weakened the rights of workers to organise themselves or
seek redress for employer wrongs, tripled the rents on housing for the
poor and opened the nation's borders to cheap junk imports
manufactured in Asian sweatshops.

Blunderland realities

In typical Blunderland fashion the New Zealand clone of Wal-Mart which
imports all this shoddy rubbish, the ubiquitous Warehouse chain (where
"Everyone gets a bargain"), is held up to Kiwis as an example of
entrepreneurial acumen and its owner, Stephen Tindall, feted as a
national benefactor. Meanwhile the two who made his fortune possible,
ex-PM David Lange and Finance Minister Roger Douglas, would, in a more
rational world, be placed on trial at the International Court of
Justice in the Hague for crimes against humanity. Instead an
increasingly incoherent Lange makes money in retirement from the
business talk-fest circuit, selling breakfast food on TV and suing
critics of his eight catastrophic years in office. Roger Douglas, in
an episode reminiscent of Orwell's "Animal Farm" in reverse, dabbled
in a pig farm investigated for cruelty by the RSPCA and described by
one farm inspector as the filthiest she had ever seen, but now travels
the world spreading economic disaster, supported by the IMF, the World
Bank and New Right economists.

Neither man could be trusted in charge of a lawn-mowing franchise. New
Zealand put them in charge of a country for eight years during which
time they did more damage to the social structure and economy than was
managed by previous Parliamentary incompetents in even the worst days
of the 30s Great Depression. Their "reforms" promised increases in
productivity, but after eight years of restructuring and massive
labour deregulation, New Zealand's productivity was set on a decline
from which it has never recovered. For example, between 1990 and 1998
Australia posted a 21.9 percent increase. New Zealand managed a
miserable 5.2 percent. This decline has been steady and reflects the
profound loss of manufacturing facilities and skills.

Only the wealthy in New Zealand have seen any benefit from this
destructive exercise in social engineering. Between 1984 and 1996, the
top 10 percent of income earners increased their nett worth by 50
percent or more while the lowest 10 percent lost 21.6 percent of their
1984 income. Many of the top 10 percent became multi-millionaires
under the Douglas/Lange regime and those who have not hoisted their
ill-gotten gains and themselves overseas - as notorious winners in the
"reforms" such as Michael Fay, David Richwhite and Douglas Myers have
done - now work under the umbrella of the Business Roundtable (sic) to
pressure PM Helen Clark into releasing the last unsold state assets
(TV broadcasting, the Post Office, etc) into their relentlessly
grasping hands.

More than 50% of the total working population now have considerably
lower real income than they did in 1984, work sweat shop hours and
typically have more than one job, reflecting employment conditions in
the factory slums of 19th Century England, rather than the socially
secure paradise those of us from an older generation can still
remember. Little wonder that many New Zealanders have lost heart in
the tunnel light myth and now flee the country in droves, producing a
situation where Prof Wade warns: "Once a threshold density of skilled
people is lost, the rate of out-migration is likely to accelerate,
companies and organisations will have increasing trouble meeting
staffing needs, the quality of public services will decline, the tax
base will erode..." (2)

As a consequence of all this radical mismanagement, New Zealand is now
Australia's poor neighbour, de-industrialised, de-skilled, and largely
dependent on the technological and industrial know-how and products of
former peasant economies who had the foresight to govern their nations
in the diametrically opposite direction. To its closest neighbour,
Australia, New Zealand now has a status approximately equal to that of
New Guinea or Fiji and the relationship between the two countries is
typified by the one-way flow of skilled labour north-west across the
Tasman Sea. Apart from the occasional mention of Kiwi sporting teams
and oddities like an elephant seal squashing a car, New Zealand
receives less mention in the Australian media than the weather in

History repeats itself

This is the reality on which understanding of New Zealand's flirtation
with genetic engineering has to be understood. A crippled nation which
exports its best and most creative brains overseas can only be
expected to come up with another crippled formula for the future. The
Royal Commission on Genetic Modification's report rambles on about
"New Zealand taking a leading place in the Bio-tech Revolution", but
has produced a blueprint which shows all the shortsightedness, lack of
planning and stupidity which ushered in the original New Zealand

A distinguishing feature of that experiment has always been recourse
to the latest faddish expressions as if resorting to a topical label
would somehow change national thinking and turn the economy around by
the pressure of semantics. "Think Big", "User Pays", "Market Forces",
"Filter Down Mechanism", "Information Age", and now "Bio-tech
Revolution" and "Knowledge Economy" - we New Zealanders have lived
through them all without seeing them make one iota of difference to
the general state of the nation and no one here believes the emerging
Bio-tech Revolution will lead anywhere but overseas, where an average
11,000 Kiwis settle permanently every year.

Crucially, the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification has failed
completely to clarify to New Zealand and the rest of the world the
real issues involved in the whole debate regarding genetic
engineering - that from beginning to end the whole Frankenstein
technology that present GE experimentation represents, is directed
towards corporate control and ownership and the personal profit of a
squalid group of third-rate scientific brains lacking the moral and
intellectual fortitude to see where their lunatic experiments are

I do not believe that Greater Nature will easily forgive what New
Zealand has joined North America in unleashing. They who have sown the
wind may yet live to reap the whirlwind.


1. Murray Dobbin, "The lesson in New Zealand Economic Policy",
reported on <>, July 16, 2001.

2. Simon Collins, " 'Developed' status in danger", NZ Herald, 1.8.01,
page 3.


Chris Wheeler is former president of the NZ Soil & Health Association,
New Zealand's foremost organic agriculture lobby group and a Southern
Hemisphere writer on environmental and health issues who has been
widely published in Australia and New Zealand.

Chris Wheeler
P O Box 17-535, Greenlane
Auckland, New Zealand
Tel: (649) 846 7479 or Mobile: 021 505 201

"God is not on the side of the heavy battalions,
but of the best shots." Voltaire, 1694-1778, The Piccini Notebooks.

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