1. New Zealand - Royal Commison into Genetic Modification
2. Bob Anderson's response.
Here's an article on the Royal Commission on GMOs now underway in NZ. I love this bit:
'Asked if his company would be liable should something go wrong, [Dupont's representative] said: "Most of us use automobiles. Do we hold the automobile company liable for . . . providing safe products, absolutely tested? I feel we all have the freedom to operate and choose."
Freedom to choose?
As consumers and as societies, we've all knowingly and freely bought into this technology, have we? I don't think so! Even GM food labelling is still pending in NZ.
But while there's precious little freedom to choose for us, there is of course plenty of freedom to operate for the biotech companies - freedom, in fact, to drive the biotech juggernaut wither they will and freedom from comebacks for any damage done during the spree.
But then that's a small price to pay for crops that can solve every problem known to man:
Aventis argued that modified production would benefit the world's huge population ... would be resistant to drought, cold and damp and foods would have improved nutrition and shelf life.... would combat anaemia, child blindness and juvenile diabetes [what about juvenile crime?!] and protect against heart disease and cancer.
DuPont said modified crops could increase productivity, reduce pesticide use, reduce insect harm where pesticides were not used, provide new products such as fuels, polymers and pharmaceuticals, and add nutritional value.
More to the point might be some protection from the arrogance that makes us think we can rearrange the world of nature at will and engineer our own futures. Here's a couple of quotes - the first from David Ehrenfeld's "The Arrogance of Hunmanism":
"Our most glittering improvements over nature are too often a fool's solution to a problem that has been isolated from context, a transient, local maximization that is bound to be followed by mostly undesirable counter adjustments throughout the system"
And here's one from Rene Dubos on hi-tech quasi-solutions and the residual problems:
"If we follow this course we shall increasingly behave like hunted creatures, fleeing from one protective device to another, each more costly, more complex, and more undependable than the one before..."
And of course to date there's precious little proof that GMOs can do any of the many things listed even at the outset!
Incidentally, the man from AVENTIS NZ who says even a 400m buffer might not be enough seems to be singing from a somewhat different hymn sheet to Judith Jordan from AVENTIS UK at the Greenpeace trial, let alone AVENTIS OZ who reportedly won't even respect a 15m buffer zone!
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No guarantees from gene-food giants
The Dominion (Wellington) 17 October 2000
by Alan Samson
THE world's first substantial inquiry into genetic modification began in Wellington yesterday with a concession by two genetic engineering multinationals that it was impossible to guarantee containment. Two of the "big six" multinationals put their case on the first day of the 14-week Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. They emphasised that it was impossible to give absolute guarantees in any endeavour.
Any risks were negligible, they said. First up before the commission was Aventis SA -- a newly-formed merger of Rhone-Poulenc and AgrEvo. Aventis argued that modified production would benefit the world's huge population -- six billion, and growing rapidly. The company's public affairs head, Naomi Stevens, said that future crops would be resistant to drought, cold and damp and foods would have improved nutrition and shelf life. There would be plants that would combat anaemia, child blindness and juvenile diabetes and protect against heart disease and cancer, she said. The next company, DuPont, accepted there were public concerns about the technology.
"While much of these concerns arise from misinformation or alarmist exaggeration, we nevertheless believe that we should proceed with caution," it said. "A scientifically impeccable process is needed and as much information as possible should be made available publicly. "In these circumstances, we consider that a regulatory regime must be established and robustly administered."
Both companies faced tough cross-examination from the Green Party, Greenpeace, an organic industry group and the Nelson GE-free Awareness Group. An Aventis product safety manager, Robert MacDonald, was asked about the effect of any escape on organic groups' ability to certify their products as free of genetic modification. He said that more controls "would be required". He conceded that cross-pollination and cross-hybridisation could occur from his company's modified canola to related species. Pressed on the effectiveness of regulatory requirements that plots be separated from related species by 400 metres, he said, "rare pollination events can occur at greater distances, yes".
To questions about the need for long term clinical testing to rule out allergenic effects from modified foods on humans, Ms Stevens said she was "not sure" these would provide a complete answer. DuPont United States representative Clive Holland said that, to date, no introduced dna had been transferred into meat or milk from an animal feeding on a modified product. "But we can't give you guarantees, particularly with crops, because nothing in life is risk free," Professor Holland said. "But all our data shows we are comfortably way above the line on safety."
Asked if his company would be liable should something go wrong, he said: "Most of us use automobiles. Do we hold the automobile company liable for . . . providing safe products, absolutely tested? "I feel we all have the freedom to operate and choose."
In its submission, Aventis approved of strong regulatory processes but argued strongly against the high costs of hearings and duplications between approval and monitoring authorities. It recommended a national biotech strategy to help New Zealand "realise the potential benefits" of biotechnology. DuPont said modified crops could increase productivity, reduce pesticide use, reduce insect harm where pesticides were not used, provide new products such as fuels, polymers and pharmaceuticals, and add nutritional value. Opportunities for New Zealand included increased-energy oil corn for stock, low-bloat clover and lucerne, pest control and herbicide-tolerant varieties of corn, and an expansion of soy protein and fibre products.
* * *
And my reply to the gene giants was;
“Any risks negligible, say GE giants”
Indeed, even as they speak millions of bushels of US corn, unapproved for human consumption have been recalled. ConAgra Foods, one of America’s biggest foods companies, said it’s temporarily stopped operations because of fears it may have received the same GE corn that sparked nation-wide recalls of taco-shell brands.
While the US boasts of having the safest food supply in the world, statistics reported from the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) show that 76 million Americans suffer food poisoning each year and about 5 000 die from it. The new CDC analysis also estimates that 325 000 people are hospitalised annually for food-related illnesses.
Particularly startling is that the new CDC numbers on food poisonings are twice as high as its most recent analysis, which put the figure at 33 million.(1)
Could this reflect three years’ of GE food consumption? We just don’t know. They list a cornucopia of future promises; plants with a long shelf life, and plants that heal blindness, anaemia, cancer or diabetes. Only time will tell.
As Dr Richard Nicholson said in the Bulletin of Medical Ethics:
“Ten years ago we were told that gene therapy was the greatest things since sliced bread. Today, its record stands at cures nil, deaths five, major adverse effects at least a thousand.”
Mr DuPont suggests such fears arise from “misinformation or alarmist exaggeration.” I think not. With a 50% increase in Soy allergy (2) and our growing cancer burden it’s thanks, but no thanks from New Zealand.
Member Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics
1. 71. Organic View, v.1 n.14, 28 Sep 1999
2. York Nutritional Laboratories., Increases in Soy Allergy.