Previously known as Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics PSRGNZ - Charitable Trust
As required under the new 2005 Charities Act, PSGR has reregistered as a charitable trust.

25 October 2013

 

The CEOs and Councillors of all Regional, District and City Councils in New Zealand

            and the CEOs of all District Health Boards

cc other relevant recipients

 

Since 2003, PSGR has been asking Councils to consider adding to their Plans precautionary statements on the release of genetically engineered (transgenic) organisms in their area and an herbicide strongly associated with them.  In the last few weeks, the following important developments have occurred.  We draw your attention to them and ask that you consider these in preparation for future planning.

1 - ‘An Overview of Genetic Modification in New Zealand 1973-2013:  The first forty years’, a report from The McGuinness Institute (August 2013), a privately funded, non-partisan think tank working for New Zealand’s sustainable future, contributing strategic foresight through evidence-based research and policy analysis.  The report is on http://mcguinnessinstitute.org/Site/Publications/Project_Reports.aspx.

Ten years after New Zealand’s moratorium on genetic engineering ended this study suggests it is time for the moratorium to be reinstated and for a strategy to benefit New Zealand’s economy as a producer of food free of transgenic DNA in the world market. 

The Report found that despite huge investment in experiments on transgenic plants and trees there has been little benefit and significant economic risk incurred.  It says government needs to protect the value of New Zealand’s status as a producer of safe, high quality food, and that this is of national strategic importance. 

It also draws attention to the fact that New Zealand has gone backwards in terms of regulatory systems, oversight, and strategic planning.  It cites the loss of safeguards established after the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, the abolition of the Bio Ethics Council, the termination of the MORST Futurewatch programme, and the failure to update the national biotechnology strategy since 2003. 

Central control of regulation is not meeting the standards required to protect the New Zealand environment, its agriculture, its industries or its people.

 

2 - ‘The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Review 2013 - Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate’.  The Review is on http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf.

“Developing and developed countries alike need a paradigm shift in agricultural development:  from a ‘green revolution’ to a ‘truly ecological intensification’ approach.  This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.  We need to see a move from a linear to a holistic approach in agricultural management, which recognizes that a farmer is not only a producer of agricultural goods, but also a manager of an agro-ecological system that provides quite a number of public goods and services (e.g. water, soil, landscape, energy, biodiversity, and recreation).”

Plant breeding largely favours varieties determined by researchers and vested interest rather than end users.  Thousands of conventional crop varieties have been lost since the introduction of agrichemicals and monoculture practices, which include genetically engineered food crops.[1]  New Zealand needs to protect itself against their introduction.  New Zealand Councils should have control in their areas until such time as government applies substantially improved safeguards to protect the New Zealand environment and New Zealanders.

3 – Glyphosate-resistant crops represent over 80% of transgenic crops grown worldwide each year. 

Important points are that (a) such crops substantially increase the amount of herbicide applied to the crop, (b) the novel DNA giving herbicide-resistance has transferred to an increasing number of major weed species in areas growing transgenic crops, (c) this has made glyphosate ineffectual on those weeds, and (d) the weed species now require more toxic chemicals to achieve eradication.  

We remind Councils that glyphosate-resistance has been identified in several locations in New Zealand, the cause given as over application.[2] 

The following provide further evidence-based reasons for taking a precautionary approach and not adopting genetically engineered crops, particularly those using glyphosate[3]. 

3.1 - ‘Field Investigations of Glyphosate in Urine of Danish Dairy Cows’, Krüger et al., J Environ Anal Toxicol 2013, 3:5, http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2161-0525.1000186

Thirty dairy cows from each of eight Danish dairy farms were investigated for excretion of glyphosate in urine.  The conclusion was that all cows investigated excreted glyphosate in their urine.  This study demonstrated that glyphosate is toxic to the normal metabolism of dairy cows.  The likely source of the glyphosate would be animal feed containing transgenic food crop and/or feed crops, and residual glyphosate from spraying. 

3.2 - ‘Influence of herbicide glyphosate on growth and aflatoxin B1 production by Aspergillus section Flavi strains isolated from soil on in vitro assay’, Barberis et al, J Environ Sci Health B. 2013; 48(12): 1070-9. doi: 10.1080/03601234.2013.824223; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24007484.

This study shows glyphosate enhances the growth of aflatoxin-producing fungi, lending an explanation for the substantial increase in fungal toxins now found in corn grown in the US.  In 2012, its Department of Agriculture indicated 88 percent of US corn/maize grown was transgenic, increasing the potential for large areas to be affected.

3.3 - Auckland Council and its Council Controlled Organisations will set a “best practice” example for weed management on the land it owns or administers to end the practice of spraying glyphosate on road and pavement edges.  (New Weed Management Policy adopted at its Regional Development and Operations Committee Meeting on 15 August 2013.)

Auckland and North Shore City areas have enjoyed non-chemical roadside weed management for the last 14 or more years.  It is clearly available and effective.

Exposure to glyphosate is linked to a number of serious health effects including endocrine disruption, cancer, birth defects, Parkinson’s disease and respiratory problems.  In the aquatic environment it can destabilise the ecosystem resulting in algal blooms.  A NIWA study found that the marine sediment throughout the Auckland region is contaminated with glyphosate residues and each time there is more spraying more enters the waterways and sea.

4 – The decision of Auckland Council to retain and strengthen the precautionary genetic engineering objective that was in the Auckland Council proposed Unitary Plan (statutory process), in keeping with the recommendations and resolutions of the ICWP on GMOs.[4] 

Precautionary statements are also in the Plans of Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Northland Regional Council.  Whangarei District Council will proceed with the proposed collaborative Plan change involving Auckland Council and Northland District Councils, to ban all releases of genetically engineered organisms (transgenes) and to make EPA-approved outdoor transgenic experiments/field trials a discretionary activity, subject to additional local constraints and requirements, and strict liability requirements.  When Environment Minister, David Benson-Pope stated the public would pick up the cost of cleanups from potential transgene contamination making liability a major concern.

‘GE-free zones’ have been declared by Nelson, Napier and Hastings.  Albert-Eden Local Board has reaffirmed it is a GE-Free Zone in continuation of a declaration made in 1999 by local communities including Waitakere, Western Bays, Waiheke, and Devonport.  Buller District Council has in place a two-year ban on all outdoor releases.  All councils from South Auckland to Cape Reinga have precautionary or prohibitive GE policies in their long-term council community plans (LTCCPs), and precautionary GE policies in some annual plans.

We encourage other Councils in New Zealand to adopt restrictions in their long-term Plans until such time as central government puts in place regulations that mandate for independent safety tests on a case-by-case basis for proposed releases of transgenes, and take acceptable account of public and environmental health, and accountability and liability for contamination. 

Transgenes released into the environment have the potential to invade and irreversibly damage the biological infrastructure of New Zealand primary industry sectors.  As has been shown overseas, once released into the environment, transgenes will spread and potentially contaminate native and domestic gene-stocks alike. 

 

The Trustees and Members of Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility

 

Ends



[1]International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, http://www.ifrc.org/PageFiles/89755/Photos/307000-WDR-2011-FINAL-email-1.pdf.

[3] The active ingredient in the commonly applied herbicide, Roundup.  Glyphosate-resistant crops are largely RoundupReady.

[4] The ICWP legal findings are available on www.wdc.govt.nz.