"Faced with the needs of the 800 million people who are suffering from hunger, we don't need GMOs." -UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Director-General Jacques Diouf
Gene technology unsafe says ex-proponent
New Zealand Herald
By ANNE BESTON environment reporter
A scientist who once vigorously promoted gene technology now condemns it as unsafe.
Professor Terje Traavik, head of the department of virology at the University of Tromso in Norway, told the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification that the first generation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) came from "crude and potentially unsafe [scientific] methods."
And he said the third generation of GMOs being produced now were no safer and should not be allowed out of the laboratory.
Professor Traavik, appearing on behalf of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth during a two-day sitting in Auckland to hear evidence from anti-GE groups, likened the release of genetic organisms into the environment with chemical pollution.
But he said GMOs were more dangerous because scientists did not know how they would behave.
He gave as an example the insertion of a gene from the Brazil nut into soyabean plants which, although not known to cause allergies in humans, caused an allergic reaction in people who ate the soyabeans.
"Although the third generation of GMOs being produced now may have health and nutritional benefits, health and environmental risks apply to all GMOs," he told the commission.
The commission was also told genetically modified crops would not reduce pesticide use.
Proponents of GE technology have consistently claimed crops such as Roundup-ready soy, which has been genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide, mean less use of toxic sprays and herbicides.
But long-time pesticides campaigner Muriel Watts, director of Soil and Health magazine, said the University of Missouri had found that weeds in a field planted with Roundup-ready soy were also found to be Roundup resistant and as a result applications of Roundup had to be increased.
Roundup-ready soy has been genetically engineered in the United States to be resistant to the herbicide so it can be applied without damaging the food crop.
Ms Watts said little was known about the effects on humans from pesticide and herbicide spraying, let alone what their interaction with genetically engineered crops would do.
Under cross-examination from the pro-GE Life Sciences Network, an umbrella group for industries and scientists who support the technology, Greenpeace said it did not oppose the development of genetically modified organisms, but did not want them released for field trials.
This week, the commission returns to Wellington, where it will hear from church groups, including Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers and Jews.
It must deliver its report to the Government by June 1.