GM-free fight in Oz and NZ
2.GM-free decision by NSW Farmers Association
3.Call for clear labels to avoid GM food confusion
4.Controversial GM plan in debate in NZ
5.NZ Greens condemn AgResearch GE application
6.Australians eating GM food rejected overseas
7.Even Jennifer Marahasy wants GM food tested!
8.In food we trust
NOTE: Among the many intersting pieces below from Australia and New Zealand, perhaps the most interesting is the piece by Jennifer Marohasy (item 5). Marohasy's a senior fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs and a director of the Australian Environment Foundation - rightwing lobby groups that get biotech industry funding.
Yet even Jennifer Marohasy admits there needs to be more testing into GM food safety: "Given the controversy, the Federal Government should perhaps sponsor one or more comprehensive studies to get to the bottom of this issue." (item 5)
1.Farmers Federation angry over anti-GM website
The World Today, 12 August 2008
This is a transcript from The World Today. The program is broadcast around Australia at 12:10pm on ABC Local Radio.
You can also listen to the story in REAL AUDIO and WINDOWS MEDIA and MP3 formats.
Reporter: Simon Lauder
ELEANOR HALL: To Victoria now where the battle over genetically modified crops is getting personal. The Victorian Farmer's Federation is furious that an anti-GM group has published the names and locations of farmers who are growing genetically modified canola.
The GeneEthics Network says state governments have failed to keep people fully informed and people have the right to know. But the Farmer's Federation says it's an invasion of privacy which could result in court action.
Simon Lauder has our report.
SIMON LAUDER: Earlier this year the Victorian and New South Wales Governments ended a ban on the farming of canola, which has been engineered to survive the herbicide glyphosate. The GeneEthics Network has long campaigned against GM canola, saying it spreads too easily to contaminate other crops.
The director of GeneEthics, Bob Phelps.
BOB PHELPS: Well GeneEthics website is now carrying on its front page a map of the locations of the farms that are growing genetically manipulated canola in Victoria and will shortly be also publishing a map of those in New South Wales.
SIMON LAUDER: Why are you doing that?
BOB PHELPS: Well it stands in for what Government should have done and that is, they should publish a register of the locations of GM crop sites, in order that people like bee keepers, grain harvesters and the organic industry can protect themselves against contamination from these GM canola crops.
SIMON LAUDER: The GeneEthics website uses news reports and other sources to name several farmers who have planted GM canola and several others who have said they plan to. The Victorian Farmers Federation says it's an invasion of privacy which could lead to legal action against the GeneEthics network.
The Federation's President, Simon Ramsay, says the information is not in the public interest.
SIMON RAMSAY: I don't believe so. Certainly farmers have the right to choose whether or not they want to use that biotechnology. There's nothing to indicated there's any trade issues in relation use of GM or any food safety issues in relation to using GM foods. We use GM foods in a variety of food stuffs now that can be brought by consumers at a retail level.
I don't believe it's fair on those producers to have their names publicly put out there on the website by GeneEthics. It's purely a move by them to place pressure on those farmers, to try and incriminate them and to discriminate against them in relation to publicly putting those sites on a public website.
SIMON LAUDER: So you believe it amounts to bullying?
SIMON RAMSAY: Absolutely, in fact I think GeneEthics is an oxymoron given the unethical behaviour by Bob Phelps and the organisation itself and certainly if there's any legal action that these farmers want to take we'll be happy to support them.
SIMON LAUDER: So the insults are flying, regardless of whether lawsuits and canola-seed are as well. Bob Phelps.
BOB PHELPS: Far from bullying farmers I think that the bullies are the VFF and these growers who against the overwhelming majority of their other farmers, other rural industries and shoppers as well. Even in the face of our objections they're going ahead whether we like it or not.
SIMON LAUDER: The Victorian Farmers Federation also says the naming of the farmers is an invasion of privacy. Are you confident that the GeneEthics network will avoid any law suits here?
BOB PHELPS: Absolutely confident. If any of these growers had any objections whatever to being named then they wouldn't have given their names to the journalist who interviewed them in the first place. So if these people objected to the information about them being in the public domain that was the time to object. Not now that we have simply gathered it together and republished it.
ELEANOR HALL: That's the Director of the GeneEthics Network, Bob Phelps, ending that report by Simon Lauder.
2.GM-free decision by NSW Farmers Association
PAT McGRATH in Sydney
Daily Advertiser, 5 August 2008
*GM-free safeguards are sought*
THE NSW Farmers' Association has declared it will call on State and Federal governments to protect non-genetically modified (GM) canola growers from the financial risks of GM production on a commercial scale.
The association's delegates carried a motion at their annual conference in Sydney yesterday that will see the farming lobby pressure governments to provide financial safeguards for farmers who choose not to use GM canola seeds.
The conference's second day was dominated by debate over the costs, marketability and safety of GM crops, and the motion - which effectively supports the interests of non-GM canola growers - was won by a very narrow margin.
Delegates had earlier rejected an emergency motion which proposed the association pressure the government into putting a hold to the commercial growing of GM canola until conditions were put in place to ensure non-GM properties were adequately separated from GM farms and protocols enforced that "provide a choice for canola growers and consumers." [shortened]
3.Conservation Council calls for clear labels to avoid GM food confusion
The West Australian, August 2 2008
Genetically modified food labelling is inadequate and confusing for consumers, according to the Conservation Council of WA, which has called for better standards.
The council's sustainable agriculture spokeswoman, Maggie Lilith, said many European Union countries had successfully implemented strict labelling on GM ingredients and there was no reason why it could not be done in Australia.
"We've got no labelling at all so that gives no one any choice," she said. "We don't know whether (ingredients are) derived from GM canola or GM soy so people can't avoid it. It's inadequate testing at this stage and there's not enough studies that have been done and no long-term generational studies."
The council, which has also urged the State to extend its moratorium on growing GM crops,
demonstrated its point on Friday when members visiting Health Minister Jim McGinty's
office put their concerns to Federal MHR for Fremantle Melissa Parke. [shortened]
4.Controversial GM plan in debate
TVNZ, August 12 2008
A controversial plan to grow genetically modified onions and leeks on fields near Christchurch has been debated at a hearing on Tuesday.
Crop and Food has been growing genetically modified (GM) onions in glasshouses and now they are applying to grow onions, leeks and garlic on two hectares at Lincoln in Canterbury.
The scientists say it is a chance to assess the impact the crops will have on the environment.
"What we're hoping to do eventually is develop new cultivars of onions that are highly desired and so could attract premium prices so our growers in New Zealand would be able to grow these very high value onions," says Dr Prue Williams, Crop and Food Research.
Opponents say the plan is dangerous and risks New Zealand's clean green image.
"We actually believe it is dangerous. It has the potential to devastate the agricultural land around Lincoln and possibly escape further," say Claire Bleakley, GE Free NZ.
"If it escapes into the environment before it is tested for safety and it gets into our food chain, we've got no diagnostic tools. We've got no ability to trace it, or remove it," she says.
But at this stage they are already writing off their chances of stopping the research.
"Once it gets to hearing stage you know that all you can do is voice your opposition, it'll go ahead," says Bleakley.
The decision will be released next month.
5.Greens condemn AgResearch GE application
3 News, 11 Aug 2008
Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has condemned the application by state science company AgResearch to genetically engineer a range of animals, as well as human and monkey cells, yeasts and bacteria.
Fitzsimons said it wants to turn New Zealand into a giant "GE laboratory" to boost its own corporate plans at the expense of our long-term image, and without taking into account the huge risk of something going wrong.
She is concerned that AgResearch might be able to develop unlimited numbers of GE animals without disclosing publicly which specific genes and associated genetic material it intends to use.
AgResearch has made four applications for the laboratory testing of human and monkey cell lines and smaller species of genetically engineered laboratory animals and the development of GE cows, buffalo, sheep, pigs, goats, llamas, alpacas, deer and horses.
The company first won approval from the Environmental Risk Management Authority eight years ago to produce transgenic cows, including animals with copies of human genes, and has bred small herds of several transgenic cattle lines.
6.Australians eating GM food rejected overseas: Greenpeace
Stock & Land, 29 July 2008
Greenpeace is demanding that Food Standards Australia follows the lead of other countries overseas by banning several genetically modified crops from the human food chain.
The demand comes after Austria banned the import of the GM maize variety, MON 863, produced by Monsanto, because of human health concerns.
Greenpeace says the decision follows the release last year of a peer reviewed study, which revealed evidence of liver and kidney toxicity in rats fed the maize.
However, it says the same maize variety has been approved for consumption in Australia by the national food regulator, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), and is currently present in food products in Australia.
"It is appalling that Australian consumers are eating products which have been banned in other countries because of health concerns," Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner Louise Sales said.
"FSANZ should take urgent action to protect consumers and remove Monsanto's MON863 maize from the food supply."
"Not only is FSANZ approving potentially dangerous products, but our inadequate labelling laws also mean that the majority of GE foods do not require labelling - so consumers have no way of avoiding these products."
7.Another look at GM corn seems merited
The Land, 7 August 2008
THOSE making their living from lobbying/marketing sometimes claim "perception is reality".
One topic attracting a lot of talk and perceptions now is genetically modified (GM) food crops, which are controversial and present potential risks, but also have benefits.
Indeed, GM cotton has been grown in Australia for 12 years, and through incorporation of the gene from a naturally occurring soil bacteria called Bacillus tliuringiensis (Bt), there has been a 90 per centplus reduction in pesticide use in that crop.
The same Bt gene has been incorporated into corn, also providing insect resistance.
No GM corn has been approved for planting in Australia, but we import food derived from GM corn.
Last week Greenpeace demanded that the Federal Government ban the importation of products derived from the GM corn variety MON 863, claiming it to be a human health risk.
This follows an Austrian ban of the Bt variety following concerns raised by French scientist, Gilles-Eric Seralini, including in a paper
published last year.
Dr Seralini re-analysed data from a 90-day rat-feeding study undertaken by Monsanto some years ago, claiming potential differences in growth rates and signs of liver and kidney damage in the rats fed the GM maize.
David Tribe, senior lecturer at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne, explains that "the Greenpeace-funded study by Dr Seralini looked at a large number (494) of clinical comparisons and found small numbers of statistically significant differences with no consistent pattern".
At issue is the interpretation of the results from a single feeding trial with groups of just 20 rats.
Even Dr Seralini would like to see more experiments, concluding that with the present data it can 't be concluded GM corn MON 863 (approved for use here in 2003; see www.foodstandards.gov.au) is a safe product, but neither can it be concluded it is unsafe.
Given the controversy, the Federal Government should perhaps sponsor one or more comprehensive studies to get to the bottom of this issue.
Jennifer Marohasy is a senior fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs and a director of the Australian Environment Foundation.
8.In food we trust
By Greg Revell
OnlineOpinion.com, 30 July 2008
In the modern industrialised food system of today, our trust is increasingly stretched out along a complex chain of farmers, agribusiness interests, buyers, transport companies, processors and retailers. Despite this huge paradigm shift in the way we eat, our trust in food is sustained so long as we know that farmers are the first link in the chain. All our food starts with them.
Now a new technology is out to re-write that relationship - genetic modification (GM). GM food is a radically different food technology. For the first time ever, scientists and their big business backers are able to directly manipulate the fundamental genetic building blocks of life - a organism’s genome and its constituent gene components.
GM technology allows for the insertion of a gene (or genes) from one species into possibly another totally unrelated species. Biotech proponents portray GM as being the next in a continuum of technologies from traditional plant breeding through to GM, designed to impart a reassuring sense of naturalness and progression.
In reality, GM is a radical departure from traditional plant breeding. Traditional plant breeding is restricted to a closed pool of genes from which new varieties are developed according to the laws of nature. Grasses cross with grasses, fruits cross with fruits, corn with other varieties of corn. Natural species boundaries would dictate the limits of breeding. Fish cannot be crossed with strawberries but in the GM world, this is not only possible but has actually been achieved. Soil bacteria genes have been inserted into corn, human genes into tobacco, and genes have been inserted into plants to confer herbicide resistance.
Like all genes, these foreign genes express proteins - proteins that have never before been part of the human food supply. Such a radical technology demanded that questions of safety be addressed and forced us to reassess the producer-consumer bond of trust. In a genetically modified world, consumers are coming to the realisation that food increasingly arrives not from “farm to fork” but “biotech lab to fork”. In a GM world, food starts its journey in a petri dish.
Why the biotech drive to develop GM seeds? Not content with control of the fertiliser and pesticides market, chemical companies morphed into “life sciences” companies and set their sights on extending their corporate reach by securing control of the genesis of life - the seed.
By redefining traditional patent law to include living organisms, the self-organising, self replicating machinery of nature became private property. This new intellectual property rights regime redefined life in terms of its economic value. Genes were excluded from their social and environmental contexts and thousands of years of indigenous knowledge were discarded. Genes were no longer classified as inherently natural and part of the intellectual commons of mankind, but rather were reduced to entities; units of information that can be precisely counted, added or subtracted, altered, switched on or off - and owned.
With ownership came the ability to sell to the highest bidder. Life has been reduced to a commodity to be traded in accordance with the laws of a neoliberal free-market economic framework.
The new patent regime allowed biotech companies to supplant farmers as the guardians of our food heritage by securing control of the beginning of the food chain. A buying spree ensued creating an oligopoly in which just four companies now control more than 60 per cent of all the world’s commercial seed sales - the final act in the usurpation of the food chain was complete. Farmers, and by extension, consumers would now become serfs to the dictate of major biotech companies who would determine what crops would be grown when and by whom.
The question is: are we as consumers ready to cede our trust to a handful of multinational biotechs in this dramatic takeover of our food sovereignty? Trust in food has two important dimensions: trust in the food products themselves and trust in food control institutions.
The latter assumes greater importance the further the consumer is “distanced” from the product, that is, in terms of the complexity of its makeup. Current Australian biotech food regulation has meant that GM food breaks both cardinal rules. Such is the radical departure of GM food from its traditional counterpart, there is in intuitive mistrust of it by consumers. Having failed this hurdle, this leaves just one other channel for trust to be built - trust in food control institutions.
Australian governments and industry have stumbled on that one too, having failed dismally to allay valid consumer concerns. Rather than an inclusive approach, the government, at the behest of biotech interests, has chosen to restrict access to the clear and independent information on GM food that consumers demand, further exacerbating the climate of distrust.
Increasingly isolated, consumers turned to labelling and assurances of independent scientific testing by reputable agencies without financial ties to the GM industry, yet current GM labelling laws in Australia are so weak that 48 of the 50 or so approved GM foods would escape labelling, including the entire maiden GM canola crop this year.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the body charged with the responsibility of ensuring food safety, does none of its own testing on GM foods - it merely accepts data from the biotech companies themselves and evaluates the data on the fundamentally flawed concept of “substantial equivalence” - if the GM products looks, smells and tastes like its non-GM counterpart, then no further testing is required.
Throughout the world, food is revered for its ability to define culture, family and social identity and trust in food is a powerful cohesive social force. Until such time that genetic modification can ingratiate itself into those social and trust structures, GM food will always be rejected by the consumer. [shortened]
Greg Revell is the director of sustainable food policy with Gene Ethics.
An opinion provided by OnlineOpinion.com.au - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate.