Becoming New Fonterraland: GE, TPPA and BS


Holstein Freisian dairy cow – there’s 4.4 million of them in New Zealand. Image from Wikipedia. This is not a diatribe against cows, as previously stated I really do like the beasties.

So news is out that National seek to allow the introduction of genetically engineered organisms into New Zealand. You know New Zealand–that previous bastion of 100% Pure; that primary exporting country that has so, so much to loose from lax biosecurity, resource-depletion, dirty dairying, environmental degradation and/or GE-contamination? Are we still a nation or are we quickly becoming a corporation? Should we be renaming ourselves New Fonterraland?

Government ministeries don’t do things with huge policy implications off their own backs. Especially during a period of public service restructure and redundancy. But Dr Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment, apparently had no idea that his Ministry was compiling a study into how much money can be made by changing genetic engineering laws. The reason anyone found out about it? MfE put out to tender the study that looks at promoting greater use of novel organisms  in the open environment.

“They are working against a brand strategy for ethical applications of new organisms in containment. They have forgotten gorse, and possums, and the refusal by the Insurance industry to cover GM organisms,” says Jon Carapiet from GE-Free NZ in food and environment.

So why is NZ’s GE-free status at risk? Well, lobbying from two major power players–Fonterra and the US-backed biotech industry.

Fonterra: Dairying with GE–dropping quality, going for quantity

Fonterra wants GE pastures. This year it dropped it’s support for organic dairy production by 50% at a time when organic markets continue to rise. Organic dairy exports from New Zealand grew 400% between 2005-2009. Organic product sales in the USA grew 7.7% compared with total food sales increase of less than 1% in 2010. So why drop support for a ever-growing value-driven niche? Because organic production has been identified as the main obstacle to introducing GE grasses and crops into NZ.

But in this report, GE lobbyists “fail to mention the significant GE contamination of non-GE farms, the loss of markets, the massive increase in herbicide use, the new resistant weeds and disease problems, higher seed and production costs, loss of biodiversity, or the human and animal health problems associated with genetic engineering (GE),” says Soil & Health – Organic NZ spokesperson Steffan Browning.

Fonterra are ready to overlook all of this hoping to see 20% higher production over the next couple of years. Fonterra apparently is only interested in returning higher profits to investors, shafting the rest of the country in the process. They’ve managed to do it with milk prices, now they’re stepping it up a notch.

Biotech businesses want more billions

The US biotech industry isn’t happy with it’s $50.7 billion a year revenue. It wants to weaken GE laws as part of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPPA) allowing companies like Monsanto to sell it’s genetically modified organisms to a farming nation.

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement should have been the main political issue this election. Loss of sovereignty and backroom deals by National for the TPPA will complete the introduction of GE crops into NZ . To have Pharmac, tobacco regulation, intellectual property, pro-corporate regulatory biases, finance, foreign investment, mining, water rights and GE straight-jacketed by a mega-treaty done in secret (All documents except the final text will be kept secret for four years after the agreement comes into force), is an astounding affront to New Zealand as a nation.  And why is the government pursuing it? What does New Zealand hope to gain from this? Helping Fonterra gain access to the lucrative US market. Feel sick yet?

New Zealand: Value-driven?

Our point of difference as a nation, our brand, our selling point, how we can add-value to New Zealand products–is being sold out to open up room for the big boys of the industry to rape and pillage? Our world-renowned environment, our precious birds, our native flora, our health and welfare all put at risk by organisms that aren’t fully understood.  There is no going back. Once they are here they are here

Threats of future enviro-degradation, monopolisation and health concerns from novel organisms don’t seem to scare most people.The incredible lack of knowledge and apathy on these issues is because people live more in the day to day, the future can be worried about in the future, we’ve still got to get through today. But New Zealand consumers are going to have to very quickly face up to decisions about eating GE. Feeding GE grass to cows that we then eat and get dairy products from (and NZers eat a lot of beef and dairy), is a very close relationship with novel GE organisms. Do we trust our scientists and the corporations that fund them enough to bypass all evolutionary safeguards, test all possible permutations and be concerned enough about the consequences to let those organisms loose into our environment and our bodies?

And no we don’t know the full ramifications of GE in our food supply–it simply hasn’t been around long enough. We’re only just finding out that plants you eat can affect the regulation of some of your genes through the effects of plant-derived miRNAs.

Vote this Saturday

It seems almost certain that National will returned to power this election. But please consider voting for the Greens–the only party willing to stand up on this issue. With clear environmental, child poverty and economic policies, the Green Party are important players in New Zealand politics. Hopefully a strong Green presence in parliament will mean that these issues are addressed and don’t turn into policy pushed through under urgency.

References

‘Super-grass’ aims to boost milk production (02 Mar 2010)

BioTechnology Learning Hub: Amazing Ryegrass

GM grass may not be so green (18 Jun 2011)

Something smells bad (15 Jun 2011)

Warning on GM laws from the NZ Sustainability Council (10 Nov 2011)

GE law probe a big surprise (20 Nov 2011)

GE Free New Zealand in Food and Environment

Soil & Health / Organic NZ

Trans Pacific Partnership Watch

New Zealand Green Party