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Government's 'GMO 2025' Jeopardises Agriculture and the Environment

Sunday 24 March 2024, 7:16AM

By GE Free NZ

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Minister Judith Collins announcement on the government's target to manage risk on Genetic Engineering (GE) by loosening regulation is a countdown to jeopardy for exports and the natural environment, and also enables the opening for a free trade deal with the USA.[1]

Without regulatory oversight, safety trials and funding for research into long-term risks of new genetic biotechnologies (GE) it is impossible to know how to manage them. This undermines the integrity of our GE-Free conventionally grown and organic high-quality produce. It will damage New Zealand's reputation, nationally and internationally, and the pollute food and farming systems.

“Ms. Collins spearheading "GMO 2025" comes from being heavily lobbied with misleading information on existing legislation around medicines and the environment,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ, “We have many recombinant (GE) medicines on the market, all clinically tested, and we know the adverse consequences like organ, immune failure, endocrine and neurological reactions so they can be thoroughly managed by the doctor.” [2]

The existing legislation, Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) does not stop anyone from applying to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for release of genetically engineered organisms (GE) into the environment. The legislation, however, requires a robust scientific risk assessment and any unknown effects requires a precautionary approach to be taken. Applicants must provide scientific tests to guarantee that the New Zealand/ Aotearoa people, livelihoods, and environment will not be harmed from genetic contamination.

Minister Collins fails to account for the poor investment of valuable research money and failed performance of New Zealand Crown Research Institutes (CRI) GE field trials, all approved under HSNO. All have failed to show benefit over the excellent animal breeds and plant varieties available today. [3] [4]

Experiments using farm animals as bioreactors for pharmaceuticals or for climate change adaption have had cruel outcomes with animals suffering from deformities and abortions and with many euthanised on veterinary recommendation. [5]

Reports on GE brassica trials found that the plants were affected with an undefined fungal rot and no reports were made to explain the failure of trials of GE potatoes and a variety of GE onions.

The $25 million genetically engineered ryegrass trials conducted in the USA, and which Minister Judith Collins highlights, showed poor results and a further GE ryegrass application raised concerns of an allergen and was withdrawn in Australia.

AgResearch is quoted as saying the GE grass is not the same as was trialled. This is not the first-time trials have been conducted on an organism that is different from the actual product. This was admitted by the GE American Chestnut applicants when they revealed that the GE American Chestnut, they were seeking to release was not the one trialled. Unless regulation by an independent agency is in place scientists/researchers could continue to provide incorrect data on the product they are wanting to release. [6]

In Australia GE canola requires a system of segregation but there have been serious contamination incidents resulting in economic and certification loss for farmers.

The demand for conventional non-GE canola has provided farmers with an average of $65 NZD/metric tonne premium over GE canola. Rabo Bank estimates that non-GE canola will reach between $650 - $700 in 2024. Considering the yield per acre is 2 tonnes/acre a 100-acre field would give the GE Free canola farmer an extra $13000 over a GE canola farmer.[7]

Tasmania has extended its ban on GMOs until reassessment in 2029. This is to protect their GM-free premium in the market from GE contamination. [8]

A survey of New Zealand's target Chinese consumers found that 41% oppose GE foods.

In Europe consumer sentiment is also strongly against GE food and has forced there to be labelling and for liability protection for non-GE farmers.

The agenda to commercialise gene technology at the cost of our GE Free status is the wrong direction for increasing exports and for sustainability in agriculture. Organic regenerative methods are proven means to lower fossil fuel and nitrogen fertiliser dependence and to reduce use of pesticides. Management of stock and transition to mixed pastures containing grasses and legumes are tools farmers can benefit from and meet the demands from consumers choosing GE-free food.

“This Government is not consulting with the public on GE and will damage Aotearoa’s sovereignty. They are giving the biotechnology corporates ‘carte blanche’ permission to control the seed supply and breach the biosecurity Aotearoa has protected,” said Bleakley, “There will be no risk assessment, no traceability or labelling, no liability for GE contamination, this endangers vital export contracts and organic certification. It’s not good enough to say “oops” we didn’t see that risk.

Strong GE accountability and management through precautionary regulation must be paramount to maintaining assurance of the safety of New Zealand products. This will guarantee New Zealand agricultural produce continues to be GE Free.

References –
[1] https://www.thepost.co.nz/nz-news/350213884/why-government-ending-moratorium-genetic-modification
[2] https://www.medsafe.govt.nz/medicines/SearchResult.asp
[3] https://beeflambnz.com/news/low-methane-sheep-genetics-research-your-questions-answered
[4] https://germinal.co.nz
[5]https://www.gefree.org.nz/assets/pdf/GE-Animals-in-New-Zealand.pdf [6]https://www.gefree.org.nz/official-information-act-requests/
[7] https://www.rabobank.com.au/media-releases/2023/231018-australian-winter-crop-forecast-production-down-but-prices-provide-silver-lining/
[8] https://www.graincentral.com/news/tasmania-extends-ban-on-gmos/