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June 10, 2000


New Zealand and the GE debate


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

I have read with interest comments from subscribers about the negotiating an
outcome to the global debate about GE.

I don't want to tell other countries how they should make progress on this
issue but thought you might find the New Zealand approach instructive.

Our centre-left Labour Party led Government (elected last November) has
decided it will hand the debate process over to a Royal Commission of
Inquiry chaired by a former Chief Justice. The other members of the Royal
Commission are are plant biologist, an ethicist and a medical practitioner
(who is Maori or a member of the indigenous peoples).

The Royal Commission is required to report to Government by 1 June 2001 and
make recommendations about the strategic options for New Zealand in the use
or rejection of genetic modification. Its' Terms of Reference can be found
at http://www.mfe.govt.nz/new/inquiry_into_geneticmod.htm

When the Royal Commission has reported it will be the task of Government to
decide what to do with the report and recommendations.

While the Royal Commission conducts its hearings we have a voluntary
moratorium (reluctantly agreed by the biotechnology industry and science
community) on some field trials and commercial release.

The debate in New Zealand has all the same characteristics as it does in the
rest of the world. We have our local Green political Party (which the
Government needs to pass legislation) and who have a policy of trying to
create New Zealand as a "GE free paradise". Fortunately there are others
who recognise the folly of such an approach for a country which has depended
on biology and the associated sciences for its wealth for the last 160

The New Zealand Life Sciences Network (Incorporated) brings together most of
those organisations and people who see a bright future for biotechnology in
our little corner of the world. Our role is to co-ordinate the activities
of our member organisations and individual participants so we can start to
present a cohesive and comprehensive front to the public which takes the
concerns they have seriously and finds a way to develop greater public
comfort with the science.

Research here shows there is great, uninformed, public cynicism about the
scientists and the companies developing the science.

The Network sees the Royal Commission process as a tremendous opportunity to
have the debate in a forum which the public can start to develop confidence.
All sides of the argument, the cultural, ethical, scientific, safety etc
will be thoroughly aired in a public way. Assertions will need to be
supported by facts or will diminish under examination.

The approach we are taking is to present the Royal Commission with such a
comprehensive and cohesive set of submissions from members that it will
recommend continuation of the science and provide comfort for future

In the next few days we will be launching our website which we hope will
keep the world up to date with what's going on here. The Royal Commission
will also launch a website and it is expected the Commission may issue an
open invitation for submissions. The eyes of the world are expected to be
on us.

What happens in New Zealand will be important for the rest of the world. It
will be particularly important for Australia and other Commonwealth
countries because the outcome of our process will set a benchmark for the
opponents and proponents of modern biotechnology to emulate or challenge.
We in New Zealand are looking for your help. We see the great effort has to
go into public, media and political education. If you can provide donations
of information, assistance, relevant education resources, campaign ideas etc
(or even money) to help fund our programmes we would be most appreciative.

Early in July we are hosting Dr C.S. Prakash following his visit to
Australia. We are all looking forward to his contribution.

If you feel you can help plug us in to other networks, or just want more
information about what's going on here, please contact me as below.

Francis Wevers
Executive Director
NZ Life Sciences Network (Inc)
PO Box 715, Wellington, New Zealand

Ph +64 4 9160100
Mobile +64 21 916010
Fax +64 4 4731081