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    New Zealand

    Corngate: what really happened?

    On 10 July this year the release of Nicky Hager's book Seeds of Distrust created a major scandal for the Government, by producing evidence of a cover up. Corn contaminated by a genetically engineered variety was planted, harvested, sold and eaten in New Zealand in 2001. Hager showed the Government knew about the contamination at the time and covered up the incident. Furthermore the Government continued the cover up this year with both the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment insisting the corn was not GE contaminated, in spite of evidence being produced to the contrary. Also, positive results for the GE contamination were not included in the 400 pages of documents released by the Government on 12 July. Columnist Chris Trotter analyses why this situation has arisen:

    "In the absence of industry pressure, Clark and her hapless environment Minister, Marian Hobbs, would almost certainly have destroyed the suspect corn crops. But, faced with the united opposition of the multinational seed and food-processing companies, and uneasily aware that the United States Embassy was watching their every move, Clark and her advisers decided to leave the plants in the ground and keep the full extent of the possible contamination under wraps.
    "That meant keeping both their Alliance coalition partner and the Greens 'out of the loop'. Helen Clark knew that if she told Jeanette Fitzsimons and Phillida Bunkle what her officials were planning to do, the Government would be facing not only a bio-security crisis, but also a massive political meltdown. Announcing a possible GE crop contamination as the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification was about to write its report would more-or-less have obliged it to recommend against the commercial release of GE organisms. A permanent moratorium on GE would have been absolutely unacceptable to the biotech industry. In these circumstances keeping the whole thing secret must have seemed by far the most attractive option."

    A positive aftermath of corngate has been the openness of the Government since in disclosing GE contamination of corn seeds originating from the US., Dominion July 2002, Dominion Post 4 Oct 02

    Who is MAdGE?

    The time has come and MAdGE is the girl for the job! Seeing women buy 80% of the produce, we decided there were many reasons to target the mothers who nuture our future generation. MAdGE targets the businesses/retail outlets and asks them if their food is safe/GE Free. MAdGE is not politically aligned and is not anti-science ­ we believe in controlled laboratory research. MadGE provides a handy 'purse power' card which lists 10 companies to avoid and put pressure on and a bigger (and growing) list of companies on the other side who are committed to being GE free. This is an abbreviated version of the Greenpeace True Food Guide. Also available are t-shirts, umbrellas and newsletters.

    Contact details:
    Mothers Against Genetic Engineering in Food and the Environment
    Room 7, 1 Cross Street,
    New Zealand.
    Tel: 09-309 38 38
    Wellington: Tel Kara 04-801 7121

    Trampers' food becomes GE-free

    The trampers' dried food Back Country Cuisine products are GE free.
    "We insist to our suppliers that we require GE free ingredients and all comply using IP (identity preserved) methods."

    Arthur Ballantyne 7th May 2002

    Sustainability Council Set Up

    A new GE-free pressure group made up of prominent New Zealanders is calling on the government to leave the moratorium on GE in place for five years. The group is led by businessman and former Federated Farmer's president Sir Peter Elworthy, and includes sporting stars Susan Devoy, actor Sam Neill, biochemistry professor Garth Cooper and food writer Annabel Langbein. One of the Sustain-ability Council's key aims is to collate and disseminate information from authoritative and independent research, especially to policy and opinion-makers throughout New Zealand.

    Contact details:
    The Sustainability Council of New Zealand,
    PO Box 24304,
    Tel +64 4 913 3655
    Fax +64 4 913 3760

    Mice reject GE food

    17 year old Dutch student Hinze Hoogendoorn did an experiment with 30 mice which showed that when given a choice, the mice overwhelmingly chose non-GE food. The mice were let loose in big cages with two piles of food ­ one GE and one non-GE ­ stacked in four bowls. Later, when he force-fed some mice GE food, the most striking difference was that the mice fed GE food were "more distressed" than the other mice. Interestingly, the mice did not like eating the soy meal he gave them, whether or not it was GE.,
    Ecologist June 2002

    (Ed. note: This can be compared to various studies which give animals a choice of organic food and non-organic food ­ invariably the animals prefer the organic food.)

    Suppressed study shows GM crops raise production costs

    Farmers would face higher, and in some cases unsustainable, production costs if genetically engineered crops were commercially grown on a large scale basis in Europe, according to a secret European Union study leaked to Greenpeace.

    The study, "Co-existence in European Agriculture," predicts that the situation would become critical for organic farming of staple foods such as oilseed rape as well as for intensive production of potatoes and conventional maize, or corn.

    The coexistence of genetically engineered farming and organic farming would become impossible in many cases since all seeds would be contaminated with genetically engineered traits to some extent, the study concludes. Commercialization of genetically engineered oilseed rape, maize and potatoes would increase costs of farming between nine and 41 percent, the study says.

    Plans to promote GM crops defeated

    American plans to force genetically modified crops and food on to Third World countries were unexpectedly frustrated at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg. After an impassioned plea from Ethiopia, ministers rejected clauses in the summit's plan of action which would have given the World Trade Organisation (WTO) powers over international treaties on the environment.

    For most of the day the proposal had seemed fated to go through. Beside opening the door to GM, it would have placed at risk international treaties controlling the trade in toxic waste, chemicals that destroy the ozone layer, and the pollution that causes global warming. "I have never seen so many environmental ministers hugging each other as when the proposal went down," said one British negotiator.
    Source: Geoffrey Lean,
    2 Sept 02

    EU introduces strict GE labelling

    The European Parliament has voted for the world's strictest legislation on labelling of GMO food and feed. For the first time, GE feed will be labelled in the European Union. All GE food, including highly processed ingredients such as sugar, oil, starch, produced from GMOs, will have to be labelled. The new regulation will set up a thorough traceability system in order to follow food and food ingredients produced from GMOs across all stages of food processing till the final product. Greenpeace regretted the rejection of all the amendments aiming at imposing labelling of products derived from animals fed with GE feed, such as meat, milk and eggs, and urged the producers to voluntarily inform the consumers about whether GE feed has been used. 3 July 2002

    UK Bank spurns GE business

    Britain's ethically-minded Co-Operative Bank has said it would not do business with biotech companies involved in genetic modification (GM) or cloning.

    The bank, which reported record annual profits last month as it reaps the rewards of ethical investment, said the decision reflected a change in its stance following consultation with its customers. "Our stance in genetic modification, which received widespread support amongst those polled, reflects our customers' genuine concerns," said Simon Williams, director of corporate affairs.
    Reuters May 2, 2002

    Better GE food tests demanded

    The French food safety authority, Afssa, has urged research into the impacts of prolonged exposure to GE foods and the risks of the gradual development of allergic reactions. Afssa says existing testing procedures, designed to identify acute toxicity, should be complemented with tests for sub-chronic toxicity, and that tests must assess the long-term impacts on immune, reproductive and hormonal systems. from PSRG news release 23 June 02

    Canada and UK Royal Societies urge caution

    Reports by the Royal Societies of Canada and the UK urge caution over the consumption of GE foods. The UK report raised concerns that infants ingesting GE soy may be more vulnerable than adults to developing allergies. Because soy-based formulas are often their only food source, any problems may be magnified. The New Zealand Royal Society of Scientists has yet to urge similar caution. 23 June 02

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