Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





July 29, 2001


NZ Royal Commission Green Signal for GM; Cartagena


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org

Today's Topics
* NZ Govt Report Seeks to Steer GMO Middle Ground
* Executive Summary of the Report of New Zealand Royal Commission
* Royal Commission Endorses a Science-based Future for NZ
* Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety and Developing Countries
* Incessant Debate on Organics - Sams Again

NZ Govt Report Seeks to Steer GMO Middle Ground


WELLINGTON, July 30 (Reuters) - Genetic modification (GM) holds
promise as a way of conquering disease and wiping out pests but it is
risky and should be rigorously tested on a case-by-case basis, a New
Zealand government inquiry recommended on Monday.

The NZ$6.2 million (US$2.6 million) inquiry rejected the idea of a
GM-free New Zealand by recommending a loosening of curbs on low-risk
GM applications, but also sought a toughening of rules on high-risk
ones. ``It would be unwise to turn our back on the potential
advantages on offer, but we should proceed carefully, minimising and
managing risks,'' the report into the controversial and wide-ranging
topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) concluded.

The middle ground outcome disappointed anti-GM campaigners but was
welcomed by scientists who support trialling GM products outside
laboratories under conditions to be set by authorities. The report
did not give details of the conditions, crops to be trialled, or what
it saw as low and high risk applications. Calling the inquiry the
first of its kind in the world, Prime Minister Helen Clark said that
the government's initial response to the report would be released by
August 31, when a moratorium on field trials or the release of GMOs
into the environment ends.

A final response would be released by November. She said the
commission had taken a careful and cautionary approach in melding many
views into a measured document. "I would not see this as a
fence-sitting report,"Clark told reporters.

Around 42 percent of New Zealand's NZ$31.5 billion of annual exports
involve food, and anti-GM activists argue the country should sell
itself as free of genetic engineering. Scientists around the world
are modifying the genetic make-up of agricultural products to improve
their resistance to pests, disease and weather, or to increase crop

Anti-GM activists say that gene research, while appropriate for
finding new medicines, creates "frankenfood" and endangers the
environment and the food chain. The NZ Life Sciences Network, which
supports genetic engineering research, said the study endorsed the
status quo and that there was no reason for the moratorium to be
extended, as called for by anti-GM campaigners.

"The commission's report is a ringing endorsement of the regulatory
structures we have in New Zealand,'' network chairman William
Rolleston said. But the New Zealand Green Party, which pressured the
government to hold the inquiry, said the report had "chickened out" on
key issues and was extremely disappointing.

Anti-GM activists and environmentalists rallied in 42 New Zealand
towns and cities last week to press for a ban on GMOs and to market
the country as a "clean and green" food producer. "Despite all their
nice words about keeping New Zealand's options open, the commission
has recommended a faster path to the field release of GE (genetically
engineered) crops than we had before -- destroying our current market
advantage of guaranteed GE-free exports," Green co-leader Jeanette
Fitzsimons said in a statement.

The report recommends setting up two new state agencies -- a Bioethics
Council to examine social and ethical GM-related issues, and a
Parliamentary Commissioner on Biotechnology to audit existing approval
rules. ($1 - NZ$2.43)


Note from CSP:

A popular Chinese saying goes " If you ride in the middle of the road,
you get crushed by rickshaws on both sides". NZ Commission does
permit moving forward but with much precaution.

Executive Summary of the Report of New Zealand Royal Commission

The Complete Report on New Zealand Royal Commission can be downloaded at:
http://www.gmcommission.govt.nz/RCGM/index.html .

Executive summary

Genetic modification has been used freely in New Zealand for more than
a decade as a research tool, for medical purposes, and in food
ingredients. It holds exciting promise, not only for conquering
diseases, eliminating pests and contributing to the knowledge economy,
but for enhancing the international competitiveness of the primary
industries so important to our country?s economic well-being.

Our consultations with the people of New Zealand showed that, while
most were comfortable with genetic modification for medical purposes,
many strongly opposed other uses. Many of the submissions to the
Commission focused substantially on food and crops. They stressed that
the safety and certainty of the science have yet to be proved,
reflecting the fact that, at least for the moment, world consumer
preferences are against use of genetic modification in food.
First-generation genetically modified crops have shown few obvious
benefits for consumers.

Our major conclusion is that New Zealand should keep its options open.
It would be unwise to turn our back on the potential advantages on
offer, but we should proceed carefully, minimising and managing risks.
At the same time, continuation of the development of conventional
farming, organics and integrated pest management should be facilitated.

The major theme of the Report is Preserving Opportunities. Our
recommendations aim to encourage the coexistence of all forms of
agriculture. The different production systems should not be seen as
being in opposition to each other, but rather as contributing in their
own ways to the overall benefit of New Zealand.

Our inquiry has looked closely into the existing institutional
structures dealing with the technological issues that arise. Although
some suggestions for enhancement are included among our
recommendations, we are satisfied that the basic regulatory framework
is appropriate and that the key institutions, the Environmental Risk
Management Authority (ERMA) and the Australia New Zealand Food
Authority (ANZFA), carry out their functions conscientiously and soundly.

Debate on genetic modification issues in this country is made unique
by the partnership between tangata whenua and tangata tiriti created
by the Treaty of Waitangi. The values held by Maori add special
emphasis to the ethical and cultural objections many people have to
the new technology. In our extensive consultation with Maori, and
throughout the Commission?s deliberations, we have given much thought
to the values New Zealanders hold, to find a sound base for the
findings we are now required to make. It became clear that the
existing regulatory bodies were not best equipped to address issues of
this kind, so one of our recommendations is to set up a separate
specialist body, Toi te Taiao : the Bioethics Council, so that these
matters can be debated.

We were also convinced that New Zealand needs a strong overall
biotechnology strategy, to guide us in the use of all new technologies
in this field. As an allied consideration it will be important that a
single, independent institution undertakes the general auditing of
biotechnological applications, and promotes public education about the
new technologies. To this end we have recommended the establishment of
a Parliamentary Commissioner on Biotechnology, modelled on the
successful precedent of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the
Environment. We envisage that future uses of genetic modification will
continue to require rigorous assessment by ERMA before approval. One
detail whereby the Commission considers the existing processes could
be improved is an addition to the approval types now available. We are
recommending a new category, conditional release, where the use of a
genetically modified organism can be made subject to terms and
reporting back, as a further assurance of safety and to enhance the
management of risk.

Technology is integral to the advancement of the world. Fire, the
wheel, steam power, electricity, radio transmission, air and space
travel, nuclear power, the microchip, DNA: the human race has ever
been on the cusp of innovation. Currently, biotechnology is the new
frontier. Continuation of research is critical to New Zealand?s
future. As in the past we should go forward but with care. Carrying
out a full consultation process and preparing a comprehensive report
within the space of a year has meant a period of intense effort for
the Commissioners and staff. It has also asked much of those who
wished to make presentations to us. We gratefully acknowledge all who
have contributed.


Royal Commission Endorses a Science-based Future for NZ


The Report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification sets a very
clear, science based, course for New Zealand to follow the Chairman of
the NZ Life Sciences Network, Dr William Rolleston, said today. ?We
are grateful to the Royal Commission for its explicit rejection of the
idea of a New Zealand free of all GM material at one extreme, or at
the option of unrestricted use of GM at the other.?

?As the Network has argued throughout the last two years, and in
particular during the Royal Commission?s hearings, the future
economic, social, health and environmental well-being of our country
depends on our scientists and developers being able to use gene
technology responsibly and with appropriate caution. ?The Commission?s
Report is a ringing endorsement of the regulatory structures we have
in New Zealand and our approach to the public interest issues involved
in genetic modification.

?It is great we can see a return to the status quo as it existed
before the Royal Commission commenced its hearings. ?The
recommendations for the establishment of a Bioethics Council, a
Parliamentary Commissioner for Biotechnology and a comprehensive
biotechnology strategy for New Zealand have considerable merit and
will be the subject of keen discission with the Government.

"We are extremely pleased the Royal Commission has accepted the need
for us to be able to undertake field trials of GM crops to test their
environmental impacts prior to commercialisation. We have always
argued this is an essential, and safe, way of establishing what the
consequences of any release are likely to be. "There is now no reason
for the Government to continue the voluntary moratorium on
applications for field trials and, as a first step towards
normalisation, we urge the Minister for the Environment to issue a
Gazette Notice reinstating the ability of the Environmental Risk
Management Authority to receive applications for field trials.

"There are many detailed recommendations contained in the Report which
the Government and the Network are yet to consider. We welcome the
announcements from the Prime Minister indicating the details of the
consultative process we will work through over the next few weeks. The
Life Sciences Network will make a detailed contribution to that
process on behalf of its members.

"We would like to thank the four members of the Royal Commission for
the tremendous job they have done. Nowhere else in the world has such
a task been undertaken. They have shown by the quality of their Report
what can be done if a rigorous but fair and inclusive process is
followed. The whole of New Zealand owes the Royal Commissioners a debt
of gratitude for their contribution to this most important global
debate. This Report will reverberate well beyond New Zealand?s shores.

?We call on the Green Party and the other opponents of genetic
modification in New Zealand to study the report carefully and to work
with the science community to make the future prosperous for all New
Zealanders. "We can understand their disappointment but congratulate
them, as we did in our closing submissions, on the contribution they
have made to this debate. It?s clear not all issues have been finally
resolved but we believe the Report contains recommendations for a
trustworthy and credible process to help us resolve those issues over
time if the Government gets its policy settings right. "We are now
looking forward to studying the Commission?s Report in
detail,"concluded Dr Rolleston


Subject: Betsy McCaughey - do your homework
From: "David Duthie"

Dear All,
Whilst not wishing to become embroiled in the debate over the UNDP HDR
report, I feel it is important to point out inaccuracies when they
occur, as in: Genetically Modified Foods are the Best Hope for the
Hungry - Betsy McCaughey, Investors Business Daily, p A24 July 27,
2001 (forwarded by the author) which states that:

"Debates over agriculture mirror only the concerns of the rich
nations, rather than Third World needs, say the U.N. experts. For
example, the Cartagena Protocol on Biodiversity, adopted in 2,000 by
the United States and the European Union to monitor biotechnology
developments for safety, does not include any members from the
developing world".

Firstly, the relevant Protocol is the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety,
a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Secondly, it has been signed by the European Community, and its
constituent countries separately, but not the US, since the latter are
a signatory, but not a Party, to the Convention on Biological
Diversity and thus cannot join its protocols until they accede to the

Thirdly, the final text of the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety was, to a
large extent, determined by developing country interests. To date, the
Protocol has been signed by 105 countries and ratified by 5 (Bulgaria,
Fiji, Norway, St Kitts & Nevis, and Trinidad & Tobago).

One has to wonder about the accuracy of the rest of the text when a
single paragraph can be so badly misinformed.

- David Duthie, UNEP/GEF Biodiversity Enabling Activities, PO Box
30552, Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya


From: "Gordon Couger"
Subject: Mr. Sams

Mr. Sams your continued false claims that 52% of the net income of farming
are from government payments are either from ignorance or from deception.
Government payments are only paid on cotton, wheat, corn, soybeans and a
very little on some feed grains. On these crops the 52% figure may be true
for one or two years but I know very few farmers that rely on these crops
for all their income. To come up with this figure profits from
livestock and
all other crops would have to be completely excluded form the
Fifty two percent of the profit of crops that have support payments is
a far
cry from 52% of the income from framing. If you were raised on a farm you
should know the difference.

As long as you attack conventional farming with half truths you can expect
to be corrected in the same manner of the attack. As long as you try
to use
this form to try to advance organic agriculture by attacking conventional
agriculture you need to use better facts than the Soil Association passes
out or expected to be called on them every time.

If the benefits you claim for organic agriculture would stand the light of
peer review you would have a stacks of papers in prestigious journals
you do have enough popular support for the research and the political pull
to get it published even if the papers are some what questionable in their
rigor and I haven't seen the papers except for one on apples in Nature.

None of us disagree that food without pesticide residue is better. But you
conveniently neglect to say that the great majority of conveniently
food has no pesticide residue either.

If you wish a more civil response don't use vitriolic attacks on the
US farmer and US agriculture while making hay of the confusion over
biotechnology and the mythical superiority of organic farming over
conventional farming.

Gordon Couger.


From: Craig
Subject: Re: Sams on Organic

Andrew Apel raises 7 concise points, I will try to be equally concise
in response.

> Re: Sams v. Avery et. al. In a recent posting, Craig Sams has made a
> number of points which need a response.
>1. Sams says that ╬could╠ is a ¤favorite pro-GM word in the sense of GM
> could feed the world. The claim is truthful enough, but it╠s also a
> that organic agriculture could never make. Organic agriculture
cannot feed
> the world and has been largely abandoned by farmers because of low
> productivity.

Sams: Organic agriculture could feed the world. It has not been
abandoned by farmers, it is growing at an extraordinary rate.
"Feeding the world'
is a red herring. The FAO states that the world already has 50% more
produced each year than it eats. Distribution and poverty are the
basis of
hunger problems, not inadequate food production. There is a strong
case that organic agriculture is more productive, when you measure the
real cost of inputs and processes in conventional agriculture.

> 2. Subsidies are a fact of life for countries which rely on
agriculture for
> domestic food security or maintaining exports. Subsidies help
preserve the
> survival of this sector, which lives at the bottom of the food chain
and is
> prey to low profitability, wild fluctuations in food prices, weather
> variables and other factors. In Britain and Europe, organic farmers
> that subsidies for organic agriculture are too low. All farmers want
> subsidies, always, but the politics of subsidies is so tangential to the
> organic vs. biotech debate that it╠s virtually irrelevant.

Sams: I disagree 100%. The domestic food security and exports
arguments are equally unsupportable. The agricultural sector does not
live at the bottom of the food chain, but at the top. It feeds us all.
The bigger its production units get, the more demanding it becomes of
public subsidy. Follow the money. The subsidy is not on small farmers
- it goes to large agri-corporations who have got to learn to fend for
themselves, like all other industries. The ultimate result of
subsidies is that MacDonalds can sell a hamburger for 99ó when its
real cost should be $2.49

>3. I don't think anyone here is really against 'organic' agriculture
per se,any
>more than they're against Amish agriculture. Many, however, here and
>are against how 'organic' agriculture has chosen to promote itself? by
>maligning those who choose not to be organic farmers. People who
promote their
>products in this way can reasonably anticipate a response.

Sams: The E.coli slander is just one of many attacks on organic
agriculture that reflect badly on its opponents. Organic agriculture
arose in response to a desire by consumers and producers to find a way
to market and consume foods that were not produced with agrichemicals,
intensive animal conditions and food additives. In other words, it
arose in response to consumer concern about issues that scientists
assured them were not important. It is inevitable that it will dwell
on the perceived negatives it avoids as much as on the positive
benefits it brings about.

> 4. Organic farmers have not ¤accepted with reluctance the impact ofhow
> neighboring farms affect their operations. In Britain, demands by
> farmers for separation distances between GM and organic range from
two to
> seven miles; in New Zealand, they demand no GM anywhere, with an
ocean as
> their pollen barrier.

Sams; I stated that organic farmers have 'accepted with reluctance'
the problem of pesticide spray drift. If an organic farmer claims his
product is 'pesticide-free' Professor Anthony Trewavas will report
them to the Advertising Standards Authority on the basis that
pesticides are everywhere. Nobody wants to see the same thing happen
with GM contamination.

> 5. Consumers do not have an innate distrust of the scientific claims
> GM, in the US. In fact, it has been proven that US consumer
acceptance of GM
> goes up dramatically when they are informed that the majority of
foods on
> store shelves have GM ingredients. This works differently in other
> where food quality is lax and scares are rife ? the countries where
> more easily fall prey to the scares the organic food industry preys

Sams; I was referring to the demand for GM food labelling in the U.S.,
a bill for which is now heading for a vote in Congress. The statistics
I've seen indicate the the demand for GM food labelling has increased
steadily, mainly as a result of 'don't knows' coming down in favor of

> 6. The diversion of consumer attention from food safety and
nutrition to how
> the food is produced is not a ¤fundamental power of truth that Sams
> suggests. In the main, organic and GM food products cannot be
> along relevant safety and nutrition lines, and Sams freely admits
that the
> same constraints on rat feces and pesticide residues apply to
organic and GM
> products. So organic distinguishes between production practices
instead ? and
> thereby makes the irrelevant appear relevant to the consumer; but
it's just
> sleight of hand.

Sams: It's not sleight of hand. Pesticide residues in organic food are
a tiny
fraction of those found in conventional food. There are no antibiotic,
hormone or GM hormone residues in organic food. There are about 1000
chemical additives permitted in conventional processed food that are
prohibited in organic food and for which no minimum tolerance exists.
Organic food never contains fumigants or post-harvest processing
chemicals. There's more, but you can't call such fundamental
differences 'sleight of hand.'

> 7. Sams claims that organic is 'better for the environment,' though he
> doesn't exactly say better compared to what. We may well discover
that GM is
> better for the environment, though how soon that happens depends on
how many
> field trials the Brits manage to destroy. The same goes for
>'healthier' and 'safer,' both suspect claims as food illnesses have
not been traced to the
> use of GM crops, conventional pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.
We do
> know conventional farming can feed more people, more efficiently, and at
> least as safely as organic farming. I look forward to seeing the
> which Sams says will support his claims, and therefore ask him to
treat this
> as a 'complaint' which, he says, will result in the revelation he

Sams: The Soil Association Biodiversity Report shows irrefutably the
environmental benefits of organic farming and many organic practices
are now being incorporated in other agri-environment schemes.
Pesticides are connected to illnesses - their mutagenicity and
teratogenicity are well established. That's why maximum residue levels
exist. E.coli O157:H7 is connected to intensive beef production and
salmonella increases proportionate to flock size, hence the maximum
400 birds level in organic production. Nobody is sure what irradiation
does to meat, but the organic consumer doesn't have to worry. We do
not know that conventional farming is more efficient as 'efficiency'
in a subsidised State-controlled activity is hard to measure, as the
Soviets found to their dismay. The safety of food always has to be
balanced against other factors such as yields, environmental impact,
sustainability, food security and rural economics. Organic production
weights some of these factors more heavily, sometimes at the expense
of yields, which can be a very narrow measure.

> In the mean time, I would point out that organic farmers with the
> belief in the fundamental goodness of people' Sams adverts to, along
> their retail cohorts, might consider using something other than fear and
> slander to promote their products.

Sams: If you actually look at the advertising and promotional material
used by organic companies I think you will be impressed by the
emphasis on the positive aspects of organic food production. When you
consider that the biggest advertisers are well-financed companies like
Heinz, Mars, Nestle, General Mills and Unilever it would be against
their corporate interest to scare consumers away from the non-organic
products that make up 99% of their offering in order to get them to
buy their organic lines. They successfully walk this tightropeby
accentuating the positive. While food safety and health fears motivate
consumers, I am not sure that slander gets anyone anywhere and can't
think of any examples.

- Regards, Craig Sams


From: Craig
Re: pollen and organic crops

Dear Rick

Sorry if I didn't answer that question about whether GM poppies could
affect the organic status of Tasmanian apples, for example. Tasmanian
organic food is on sale in the UK with certification by the Soil
Association. Going even further, the same applies to food from other
countries where GM crops are grown, including organic corn, soybeans
and canola from North America. As long as they test free of GM then
they qualify as organic. I think that with soybeans distances are not
an issue at all, as soy pollen doesn't travel. With corn or canola it
becomes more difficult as pollen travels considerable distances. The
existence of 'triple-stacked' canola in Canada, where resistance to
three different proprietary herbicides has developed in canola, making
it hard for a conventional farmer to clear a field of canola
volunteers when he decides to plant wheat instead, is an indication
that we are not just talking about organic farmers having a problem.
The deal between Aventis and the attorneys general of 17 Midwestern
states also illustrates that it's not just organic farmers who are
getting hurt.

As far as saving seed, it is a characteristic of organic farming that
seed-saving is more common than in conventional agriculture. This
could be because varietals emerge which are particularly suited to the
soil type, microclimate, biodiversity etc of that particular organic
farm and that this is much more important when you don't have the
chemical toolbox to even out such differences.

Hope this answers the points you made.- Craig
Rick Roush wrote:

From: Rick Roush
Subject: pollen and organic crops


I didn't realise that I could actually generate "alarming responses",
but am still looking to an answer from you on the following. If, as
you seem to imply, the issue for organic farmers is not the accidental
contamination that is beyond their control but the potential for the
GM material to multiply, wouldn't it be true that there should be no
problem growing crops side by side that aren't fertile with one
another? As you wrote, "pollen doesn't just stick to a crop, it
actually becomes integral to the seed. The planting of that seed in
subsequent years leads to the multiplication and diffusion of the GM

Further, how many organic farmers actually save seed for crops that
have been made GM or are targetted for GM, and are pollinated? Surely
they don't save corn (hybrids), or potatoes (not pollinated). I put it
to you that there aren't many organic cotton and canola growers in
regions that are interested in GM varieties of those crops; it is
precisely the same weed and insect pressures in those areas where the
GM crops are grown that makes the GM crops attractive. For example,
any granny can grow organic cotton in the Central Valley of
California, but no one would bother with Bt cotton there because
bollworm is very minor. Thus, no conflict between organic and GM.

I'm still looking for an answer to my question about Tasmania, which I
have also posted to an anti-GM list and repeat below. Forgive me for
being a pessimist, but I reckon the real reason I can't get an answer
to this question is that there really is a desire to use claims about
contamination to block all GM simply because of fundamental spiritual
opposition to the technology, rather than economic losses per se.

Who owns the sky when the neighbor's pollen can't fertilise the seeds
you grow?


>> On that same general theme, on the small southern Australian island
>> of Tasmania, there is a push to be GE free. Tasmania has a US$1.7
>> organic industry but a $100 million poppy industry (for medicinal drug
>> production). The Tassie poppy industry wants to genetically increase
>> alkaloid production in the poppies to maintain a competitive edge. Why
>> should GM poppies or poppy pollen have any bearing on Tasmania's
>> food industry. ie., why should poppies concern organic growers or
>> purchasers of organic foods? I really can't figure it out; why
can't both
>> coexit? Craig, would your industry object to organic foods from
>> if their only GM crop was poppies?