As if to undeline the concerns expressed in New Zealand (see the press release below) about the the Prime Minister Helen Clark's governing Labour Party undermining NZ's princpal trading asset - it's wonderful clean grean image, Clark's Government had a delegation at the Biotechnology Industry Organisation convention last week helping NZ biotech businesses 'compete globally by building on NZ's "clean, green" image'!!!
But then Prime Minister Helen Clark has the "bad idea virus" bad! In 2004 the biotechnology industry lost a combined $6.4 billion in the US alone, according to a new report from Ernst & Young. The industry's total accrued losses to date are more than $45 billion. But a few years back Clark named this money losing niche industry as one of three sectors that holds the key to New Zealand's prosperity!!
Clark's biotopian visions seem to have been encouraged in part by a special link between the iconic Dolly the Sheep and New Zealand. PPL Therapeutics, the company behind Dolly, had part of its operation in NZ where it maintained over 3,500 sheep on 440 acres of farmland. In 1996, the New Zealand authorities had granted PPL approval to import semen from Scotland taken from sheep genetically engineeredt o produce a medicine.
But in January 2002 the icon of Scottish biotechnology was diagnosed as having a form of arthritis that would usually only be expected in older animals. The following year the decision was taken to 'euthanase' 6-year-old Dolly after a veterinary examination showed she had a progressive lung disease, again a condition more common in older sheep (Sheep often live to 11 or 12 years of age).
By September of 2003 PPL Therapeutics had decided to sell its assets and shut its doors. This followed its loss of 18.6 million pounds in 2002, up from a loss of 12.7 million in 2001. New Zealand was left with a large herd of unwanted GM sheep on its hands.
But before it all went pear-shaped the controversial 'Network Director - Biotechnology' at Scottish Enterprise at the time of Dolly, Peter Lennox, had been head-hunted to become the New Zealand Government's biotechnology chief - 'Industry New Zealand Director Biotechnology'. While money has been poured into biotech projects within New Zealand's public science institutes creating an aggressively pro-GM science culture.
The former GM researcher Dr Elvira Dommisse who worked inside one of these institiutes for eight years has warned of the haste and secrecy with which the Government has sought to forge ahead regardless on GM issues: "everything is being fast-tracked and hush-hushed."
And what for? "This notion that you lure biotech to your community to save its economy is laughable," says the Portland, Oregon economist, Joseph Cortright, and government officials who promise companies all sorts of incentives to relocate are ignoring the industry's financial performance, ie total losses of $45 billion to date!
Labour Will Ruin NZ's 'Clean Green' Image
GE Free NZ press release
GE Free NZ congratulate the Green party for their committment to keeping our agriculture and environment GE- Free which will guarantee our international reputation and exports for decades to come.
But there are growing fears that Labour party policy will undermine New Zealand's "Clean Green" Brand unless they too recognise the huge public support for environmental sustainabilty as part of New Zealand's future.
Recent moves by New Zealand representatives to block agreement on regulation of GM at international meetings have seen New Zealand accused of being there to further the interests of overseas countries. In Montreal international delegates held up signs saying "Shame on New Zealand" for blocking consensus on tracking and labelling live GE organisms.
Links to biotechnology investors in Iowa have been suggested as one of the reasons behind New Zealands's astonishing blocking tactics at the recent Cartegna Protocol Conference in Canada.
"There is grass-roots support throughout the community and within Labour that GE should not be allowed to threaten our the clean-green image. But the government burecaucracy is ignoring that, and are putting our brand reputation at risk," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment.
It is time to re-think the approach being taken to science by government to ensure the broader values of society are reflected. Over the last few days we have heard about the dismal state that Scientific Institutions are in, where scientists are not even able to assure their children that science is a viable career option.
The CRI model forced the independent institutions to build private public partnerships with biotechnology as their main business. In the case of Ag Research much funding went into developing Biotechnology with PPL. However when PPL went into bankcruptcy, after the failure of their biotech sheep, they also pulled funding from AgResearch, leaving them with a severe cash crisis.
It is a positive move that the Green Party are eschewing privatisation and bulkfunding of Institutions. Their policies stop the bleeding cuts and competition that cause a drag on development of ideas, and helps redirect funding into developing science on a sustainable, and ecologically sound basis.
"GE Free NZ are calling on government to commit to a science policy that enhances our clean-green reputation and makes it more of a reality, not less of a reality as their policies currently threaten to do," says Jon Carapiet.
Part of the investment in science must be to protect our GE Free, organic and conventional production systems from degredation and contamination.
It is wrong for the New Zealand government to be undermining our own investment is bio-security by blocking consensus for best-practice bio-security internationally.
Claire Bleakley (06) 3089842
Jon Carapiet 0210 507 681
Iowa makes 'unique' biotech agreement with New Zealand
Greens maintain commitment to keeping NZ GE-Free
GE is still in the lab and keeping it there will continue to be a priority for the Greens in the next Parliament, says Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.
"There is one aspect of the Greens’ Environment Policy announced today that is not new - we remain committed to keeping New Zealand’s environment GE-Free.
"Happily, the Greens and the GE-Free Movement have so far succeeded in keeping living GE organisms ‘in the lab’. We take credit, along with the rest of the movement, for the fact that NZ's first proposed release, in 1999, was withdrawn and there have been none since. This has given us a breathing space and time to reflect on the damage GE crops could do to our economy.
"Despite the lifting of the legal GE Moratorium in October 2003, there has still been no release of Genetically Modified Organisms. There haven’t even been any applications.
"The Greens have kept the promise we made in 2002 and not voted confidence and supply for the Labour-led Government during this term because of its unwise and short-sighted lifting of the GE Moratorium.
"The Moratorium is now history, so by definition, its continuation cannot be a ‘bottom line’ for us going into this election or subsequent negotiations. But both the Labour Party and the public should be under no illusion - maintaining New Zealand’s GE-Free status is a high priority for the Greens in any coalition or support talks after the election," says Ms Fitzsimons.
Environment Policy Summary Policy highlights:
*Maintain NZ's current GE Free environment and food production - no release of GE organisms outside a contained laboratory
*See the full policy at: http://www.greens.org.nz/searchdocs/policy8865.html
for more on these issues see:
Brazil, New Zealand block decision on documentation of GMOs
The South North Development Monitor (SUNS), 7 June 2005, issue #5815