Tough Green line on NZ
*Tough Green line on what happens next
New Zealand to allow trials of GM crops as two-year ban ends
Thursday October 30, 2003
A two-year ban on genetically modified crop trials in New Zealand was lifted last night, despite warnings that the technology posed a particular risk to the country's ecological balance.
Two-thirds of residents wanted the moratorium, imposed in 2001 to allow Wellington to assess the impact of GM crops, to be extended.
Linda Newstrom of Landcare Research, a government-funded environmental research group, said the large proportion of imported species in the country increased the possibility of GM contamination.
"With any non-indigenous flora, New Zealand is going to be a lot more vulnerable than most countries," she said. "More than half of our plant cover is non-native, whereas somewhere like Britain it's less than 10%."
Until the arrival of Maori settlers 1,000 years ago, the islands had never seen a land mammal. Since then humans have introduced nearly 20,000 species, and foreign organisms now outnumber native ones.
The result is an ecosystem peculiarly at risk from invasive weeds and hybridisation.
A Landcare Research report found that native plants were able to interbreed with introduced potato, carrot, tomato and celery crops, potentially destroying rare indigenous species.
Nine thousand people marched on the capital this month calling for the GM moratorium to be preserved. One group walked 930 miles around North Island and another set up camp opposite the parliament in Wellington.
Members of an organisation called Mothers Against Genetic Engineering demonstrated naked outside parliament and unveiled a billboard of a four-breasted woman hooked up to a milking machine. Maori groups have also been vocal in opposing GM, as many regard traditional agriculture as central to their identity.
But much of the pressure for keeping the ban in place came from food groups, who said the change would damage New Zealand's reputation for high quality, green produce.
Michael Roche, professor of historical geography at Massey University, said the debate had been intensified because New Zealand was dependent on farm exports. "We're in a pretty exposed international environment, so there's an element of caution," he said. Two-thirds of export earnings come from agriculture, horticulture and forestry, which together account for 17% of GDP.
A government report in April concluded that licensing GM products could raise farm income by 5%, but the damage to the industry's image might cost more in the long run.
Officials expect it to take 18 months after an application to use GM technology for the first crops to be planted. The only product being considered at the moment is a modified onion crop.
Federated Farmers, an organisation representing New Zealand's 18,000 farmers, said the end of the moratorium would have little effect on the industry. A spokesman, Hugh Ritchie, said: "You can't say suddenly that your lamb is contaminated just because there's a modified onion trial in Canterbury [on the South Island]."
Greens looking to play supply card in 2005
New Zealand Herald , 30.10.2003
By KEVIN TAYLOR political reporter
The Green Party believes Labour will do a deal on genetic modification after the next election if Prime Minister Helen Clark needs its support on confidence and supply votes.
And co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons also believes Labour will only have itself to blame if it refuses to bargain the GM chip and ends up in opposition after the 2005 election.
The tough Green line was laid out yesterday by Ms Fitzsimons and co-leader Rod Donald, as the end of the moratorium on commercial release of GM organisms neared.
The moratorium expired at midnight last night as anti-GM groups vowed civil disobedience and direct action to stop GM projects in their tracks.
A gathering of groups in Wellington yesterday declared the start of the "people's moratorium" that would take whatever action was necessary to keep New Zealand GM free.
The Green co-leaders accused the Government of committing "economic sabotage" and called the moratorium's end Labour's biggest political miscalculation that would come back to haunt it. Ms Fitzsimons expressed confidence New Zealand could still be kept GM free even with the moratorium gone, but Environment Minister Marian Hobbs rubbished the claim saying that by 2005 there may already be conditional releases.
Ms Fitzsimons said "progress" on the GM issue would be expected from post-election talks with Labour. The Greens had many bottom lines but it would not enter into an arrangement with Labour if no changes to GM policy were made.
"If Labour needs our support in order to keep the treasury benches they will reach an accommodation on GM - because I don't believe Helen Clark wants to go into opposition after the next election. I think it's as simple as that."
Ms Fitzsimons said if Labour refused to budge, it would only have itself to blame for going into opposition.
"If they don't negotiate with us we will not give them confidence and supply."
Meanwhile, anti-GM groups yesterday threatened direct action and proclaimed a "people's moratorium" was now in force.
One of the strongest statements came from Felicity Perry, spokeswoman for GE Free NZ, a group that has been camped on Parliament's front lawn since Monday.
She told a media conference they were forming the "People's Moratorium Enforcement Agency" and in coming months would train people in direct action.
Later the group marched through Wellington streets chanting "you plant it, we'll pull it".
They visited the offices of the Environmental Risk Management Authority, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and pro-GM Life Sciences Network, to deliver people's moratorium declarations.
Erma chief executive Bas Walker met the protesters and told them he did not expect "many or any" applications for commercial release in the near future.
MAF public relations staff took the group's declaration, while LSN executive director Francis Wevers refused to meet them.
At the people's moratorium launch, Greenpeace's Steve Abel said it was a direct action organisation and he accused the media of being fixated with the prospect of crop-pulling.
"I think there's no surprises here in terms of what is likely to happen if crops go in the ground."
But he said there were still many other things people could do to oppose GM before it came to that.
Mothers Against Genetic Engineering (Madge) founder Alannah Currie said while it was not their policy to destroy crops she "will be trying on gardening gloves".
Ms Hobbs told the Herald she would be horrified if there were acts of sabotage.
"It is to my mind theft and sabotage, and I think people have to be really careful. But if that's what they want to do then they will face the action of law."
Ms Hobbs warned Green leaders encouraging people to break the law that they risked being held responsible themselves.
She said that as Erma made decisions in an open and transparent way, she believed New Zealanders would come to trust the process and gain a greater understanding of the types of issues it had to consider.
The GM moratorium expired at midnight last night. GMO releases must still be approved by the Environmental Risk Management Authority.
* The Green Party says if Labour needs its support on confidence and supply after the 2005 election Helen Clark will do a deal on GM - and if it doesn't Labour will only have itself to blame for being in opposition.
* Anti-GM groups threatened crop-pulling and other direct action, declaring they would do whatever was within their power to keep NZ GM-free.
Potato project misses
The Government has quietly stopped funding research on genetically modified potatoes, which had been expected to be first in the queue for farm-scale trials now that the GM moratorium has ended. Crop and Food Research scientist Tony Conner, who has modified the potatoes to be disease-resistant, said the project missed out in the latest round of funding from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
The foundation is still funding Dr Conner to investigate the possible environmental impact of GM crops, though it has stopped funding the GM work itself.
However, the foundation's portfolio manager, Dr John Smart, said the potato project missed out only because researchers bid for projects totalling $146 million from a fund for "sustainability" research that had only $57 million available.
He said the foundation would ask the Government for an extra $12 million for the fund in next year's Budget.
It will seek $5 million extra for industry sector research including GM work, $5 million extra for environmental research and $2 million extra for urban sustainability projects.
If the Government approves the request, the extra money will be available from next July.