This week, the Environmental Protection Authority Amendment Bill passed its first reading in Parliament. The Bill puts protection of the environment into the core purpose of the Environmental Protection Authority.
This month, Dr Allan Freeth, the former Chief Executive of Wrightson (1996-2004) was appointed the Chief Executive of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), and he will start in September.
Dr Freeth was described in an Asiabiotech article as an “outspoken advocate for Genetic Engineering (GE)” in 2002, when he lamented the effects of the two-year moratorium on commercial release of GE products that was due to be lifted. Wrightson had already spent $2.5 million in GE focused research and was reducing its spending.
While he worked at Wrightson, Dr Freeth was instrumental in pushing their adoption of GE grasses. This is from an article in Management magazine:
“ ‘I realised we were in danger of missing the boat, being under-prepared for the future of farming,’ [Dr Freeth] says. ‘On the plane back I wrote down the ‘Solutions’ concepts and went straight into management meeting, where it took me three hours to explain my thinking, and another three hours for them to question it rigorously. At the end of that time we agreed and I took it to the board.’
Soon after, Wrightsons’ under Freeth, bought into biotech company Genesis to work on the genetic potential of pasture plants, and GE trees.
Freeth has described Genesis as being “heavily involved in a series of collaborations to do with genetically modified trees that have less lignum in the wood – Arbogen (a Genesis partnership) has genetically modified tress growing in South America.”
Meanwhile, many in the community are concerned that the EPA may be about to approve genetically engineered trees ‘fit for the environment’. The proposed National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry says that should the EPA approve GE trees, it would be a permitted activity under the RMA, overriding local councils’ ability to protect against GE trees through their council plans.
So, the very agency that has the ability to decide on releasing GE trees into our environment, throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, is now headed by a man who has been an advocate of GE. We should remember that this is an organisation that should be protecting the environment, not exploiting it, and certainly not permitting the release of GE organisms into an environment so reliant on its clean, green brand.
We would not have expected an ardent advocate of GE to be heading the body charged with protecting the environment.