by Jeanette Fitzsimons
Just over a week ago, the High Court ruled that ERMA breached the law in accepting applications from AgResearch to import and experiment on a range of genetically modified animals. I described the application at the time it was lodged as:
A huge application to genetically engineer a wide range of animals, plus human and monkey cells, side-steps a government promise to deal with GE applications on a case by case basis.
This is exactly what the Court upheld in accepting the appeal of GE Free NZ (see video interview with Jon Carapiet), with the Judge saying, “I have concluded the applications are simply too generic to enable the risk assessment called for by HSNO to be meaningfully undertaken”. The ODT editorialised:
what the ruling appears to reveal is that the careful case-by-case assessment of the risks and opportunities of individual applications, as anticipated by the Royal Commission into GE in 2001, and by subsequent governments, had been jettisoned in favour of a somewhat “wholesale” approach.
Under pressure from the Greens at the time of the application, AgResearch issued a mile-long press release trying to justify and defend its application. But in doing so it let the cat (and the proposed GE llamas, alpacas, sheep, cows, pigs, goats, buffalo, deer and horses!) out of the bag. It admitted to “a less than 9 percent live birth rate, aborted deformed foetuses, deformed calves, gangrenous udders and ‘animals suffering from respiratory conditions’”.
However, arguably more disingenuous than the detail of the application was AgResearch’s claim that genetic engineering “can enhance New Zealand’s clean, green image”. Huh?
Quite the contrary. As the ODT points out:
“[many] scientists, agronomists, economists and marketers… are forceful in their position that New Zealand has more to lose than to gain if its “green” image as a producer and supplier of wholesome foods is contaminated by the spectre of GE produce. The world movement in natural and organic foods is on the increase. Consumer concerns over the ingredients of foodstuff continue to rise.”
This is underlined by Fonterra and Federated Farmers themselves. Fonterra has recently been ramping up advertising for more organic milk producers to meet demand. And Federated Farmers recently used NZ’s GE-Free status to promote NZ dairy when responding to a British campaign to denigrate NZ dairy products. The Feds said:
Grazing outdoors on GM free grass and natural winter feed makes for happy cows and fantastic quality milk. This milk is crafted into quality butter and other dairy products.
We can’t have it both ways. And like the fact one can’t be half pregnant, New Zealand is either GE Free and able to produce and market healthy, natural and quality food at premium prices; or we are GE, and competing in the race to the bottom of the food chain.
While the High Court ruled on process – that the letter of the Act had not been followed in this instance – the broader issue remains: why would New Zealand wish to sacrifice its premium brand that is so crucial to maintaining prices and sales of our agriultural exports in a recession? And why would we want to put our wonderful environment and the great examples of sustainable agriculture at risk? Not to mention the acceptability of torturous experimentation on the animals.
GE Free NZ put forward a good idea of a ‘Biotechnology Statement’ promoting research and innovation that “builds on our existing reputation and supports clean, natural and sustainable production” rather than sacrifices this for GE experiments.
Last year’s poll by Colmar Brunton found that only 27% of Kiwis support genetic engineering of animals. And, interestingly, this result was the same (28%) when only considering responses from farmers. Let’s trust Kiwis, and farmers, on this one!