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.

22 July 2014   

 

Auckland Council

Private Bag 92300

Auckland 1142

 

Submission to the Auckland Council Unitary Plan

Further to our original submission of 15 May 2013, PSGR again urges Auckland Council to insert into the Unitary Plan the provisions, objectives, policies, and rules produced by the Inter Council Working Party (ICWP) on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options of which Auckland Council is a full member.[i]  It was good to hear of the recent decisions of the Far North and Whangarei District Councils to retain their precautionary statements, and the upholding of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council RPS insertion late last year.

As you will know, the ICWP document shows local government has jurisdiction under the Local Government Act (LGA) and Resource Management Act (RMA) to regulate genetically engineered[1] organisms.  This jurisdiction was confirmed by Crown Law and by Ministers for the Environment.  It was further confirmed by the Environment Court decision released on 18 December 2013[ii] allowing the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to retain reference to transgenic organisms in its Regional Policy Statement. 

PSGR urges Auckland Council in its Unitary Plans to prohibit the release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment, and also urges Council adopt a requirement for discretionary consent with liability conditions attached for EPA-approved outdoor field trials of such novel organisms.  It is important that Council is able to consider issues of concern at the local level that extends beyond the timeframes of central government authorities like the Environmental Protection Authority.  Under the HSNO Act, the EPA ceases to have responsibility or jurisdiction over an approved release of a transgenic organism once that new organism ceases to be considered as such.  Little or no further attention or testing by an independent body applies.

 

PSGR urges Council to apply a precautionary policy on genetically engineered organisms in order to meet its duty of care to its ratepayers and to protect its environment and community from uninsurable long-term costs and damage that may arise given the scientific uncertainty that surrounds transgenic organisms in situations of commercial open release.

It is clear what the New Zealand public want.  A nationally representative survey by Colmar Brunton for Pure Hawke’s Bay taken in December 2013 showed overwhelming support for local decisions in retaining a status free of transgenic organisms.[iii]  The independent Colmar Brunton poll commissioned by the member councils of the ICWP in 2009, showed strongly favoured making users of transgenic organisms legally responsible for economic or environmental harm that may result from their release and supported regulation to make users of such technology be strictly liable for any harm.

The application of genetic engineering technology alters the DNA of a living organism in ways which are much more radical than what occurs due to the generally incremental, slow processes of natural evolution.  It does this in a way that is inevitably disruptive to some degree as a result of the essentially random insertion of transgenic (or cisgenic) DNA into the functional DNA of a host organism.  It may cause noticeable changes in the appearance of the organism and/or differences in the biochemistry and physiology of the organism.  These changes are unpredictable and may result in the production of new proteins, with potential toxic effects, within the transgenic organism.  

When genetically engineered organisms are released into the environment their transgenes can be transferred to other organisms so that the engineered characteristics spread through the eco-system.  Farmers in the US face having to eradicate weed species that have developed herbicide-resistant traits, including resistance to multiple herbicides.  These so-named ‘superweeds’ can grow aggressively and out-compete transgenic crops.  Over-application of herbicides and pesticides to transgenic crops has increased substantially the volume of agricultural chemicals used and this has aided in the development of weeds resistant to those chemicals.

Each year weeds cost Australia over AUD$4 billion in control and lost production.[iv]  Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) costs the Australian grain industry AUD$140 million/p.a. for weed control and in lost production.[v]  Britain’s advisory committee on releases to the environment (ACRE) identified wild radish, wild turnip, hoary mustard, brown mustard and wild cabbage as species from which hybrids could be formed with the transgenic canola/rapeseed varieties.  A Swedish study found transgenic canola seed could remain viable in the wild even 10 years after release.[vi]  In one field trial plot, researchers found 46% of seeds in a wild turnip plant contaminated with transgenic DNA.[vii]  Wild radish, wild turnip and wild cabbage grow in New Zealand. 

Transgenic crops are being released to resist 2,4-D (an ingredient in Agent Orange), dicamba (a herbicide in the 2,4-D family), HPPD-inhibiting herbicides, and glyphosate and AL (GAT).[viii] Scientists confirm transfer to weeds and other species of this novel DNA is inevitable.

Industry claim transgenic crops benefit farmers.  A film released in October 2013 was based on a study on the socio-economic impacts of transgenic corn on the lives and livelihoods of US farmers after over 10 years of commercial growing.  Farmers explain how they became indebted because of the rising cost of transgenic seed and the increasing cost and quantity of inputs such as herbicides being used.[ix]  The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IASSTD) is a large, comprehensive United Nations study.  It supports the thesis that transgenic crops could threaten food security.[x]  

Of concern to PSGR was the approval[xi]for the New Zealand Forest Research Institute Limited, trading as Scion, to plant pinus radiata with a number of engineered traits.  The premise was that the trees would largely be engineered using what is commonly termed ‘terminator’ technology, making the trees sterile, i.e. not able to flower or replicate. 

Transgenic traits are likely to be unstable and the variants of terminator technology offer no absolute guarantee of sterility.  The traits can break down and the trees revert to flowering.  Genes can spread horizontally in soil bacteria, fungi and other organisms in the extensive root system of forest trees.  There could be long-term impacts on soil biota and fertility.  Trees that do not flower and fruit cannot provide food for the organisms that feed on pollen, nectar, seed and fruit; thus, essential pollinating insects may not be available, especially for beekeepers, horticulturalists and crop growers. 

Herbicide-resistant pines could lead to wilding pines as ‘super’ weeds.  Conventional pinus radiata seeds have been found viable “at least up to twenty-four years”[xii] and distance is no guarantee of safety from contamination.  Sing el al (1993) found pollen from pine trees had travelled over 600 kms.  It would need a failure rate of only a part of a percent for transgenes in tree pollen to contaminate other trees, potentially at great distances, in ways that could not easily be monitored.

The risks of releasing transgenic DNA are environmental and economic.  Terminator technology has attracted a voluntary moratorium from many countries because of the risks involved.  The effect on New Zealand’s reputation overseas and our exports could be damaging. 

Not allowing the release of transgenes is about protecting New Zealand’s agricultural base and the huge industry that stems from it.  With the tools contained in the release from the ICWP, Councils have the means to endorse their plans with a precautionary statement, or something more stringent, to avoid the undesirable effects of transgenic organisms.  We quote from the ICWP findings:  “... there are significant risks to local government and their communities from outdoor use of GMOs, including environmental, economic and socio-cultural risks” and “the potential adverse effects of releasing GMOs into the environment could be significant – including possible major and long term harm.  Moreover, these effects could be irreversible.”i 

For accurate information and to guide your decision-making and plan development, we recommend the comprehensive analysis[xiii] of the myths and truths relating to genetically engineered organisms and peer-reviewed studies, the executive summary of which follows this letter.  This document supports PSGR's recommendation.

For more background on reasons to retain a precautionary approach to genetic engineering technology, we refer to our letters to New Zealand Councils of 29 January 2013, 25 October 2013, 15 February 2014 and 8 July 2014.  See also PSGR Frequently Asked Questions on Genetic Engineering www.psgr.org.nz/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=54&Itemid=25.

Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility is a Charitable Trust established to provide independent scientific assessment and advice on matters relating to genetic engineering and other associated scientific matters.  The Trustees ask Auckland Council to take into consideration the following concerns for a sustainable district and a healthy community in your region.

PSGR strongly opposes submitters 318-6 Minister for the Environment; 6253-58 and 6253-119     Federated Farmers of NZ; 5508-1 The NZ Institute for Plant and Food Research; 5775-2 through 8 Scion; 6948-1 AgResearch; 9296-2 and 3 AgCarm; 2457-1 NZBIO; 6507-2 Pastoral Genomics; 2464-1 University of Otago; 8949-11 Steedman Farm; 5362-1 NZ Institute of Forestry; 4370-6  Employers and Manufacturers Association.

PSGR strongly supports 240-1 Auckland GE Free Coalition; 1279-1 GE FREE NZ; 7505-3 and 4, 5 and 6 GE Free Northland; 4852-84 (Auckland) Independent Maori Statutory board; 5677-74 Ngati Whatua; 5835-1 and 2, 5, 6, 7 Te Waka Kai Ora; 6182-1 Soil & Health Association Aotearoa NZ; 9222-1 and 2, 3, 4, 5 McGuiness Institute; 1713-1 Neil Henderson; 1713-2 and 3 and 4; 1372-2 and 4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12 Linda Grammer; 1387-1  Paul Butler; 147-1 Whangarei District Council; 147-2 and 4; 4755-1 Far north District council; 4407-1  Dr L R B Mann (Dr Robert Mann); 162-1 (Dame) Anne Salmond; Ngati Whatua Orakei  Whai Maia Limited; Te Ara Rangatu O Te Iwi O Ngati Te Ata Waiohua Trust Board; Ngati Paoa Iwi Trust Board. Ngai Tai ki Tamaki Tribal Trust; the Ngati Tamaoho Trust; Te Akitai Waiohua Waka Taua Trust and (all Auckland mana whenua); 1389-1 Robin Lieffering; 1402-1 David Lourie; 350-1 Benjamin Pittman; 4674-1 Karen Summerhays.

PSGR urges Council to apply strong precautionary policies on genetically engineered organisms for its Unitary Plan to meet its duty of care to ratepayers and to protect the environment and industries under its jurisdiction. 

 

We look forward to your response

 

 

The Trustees of PSGR

 



[1] We use the terms genetically engineered and transgenic, rather than genetic modification, they are all synonymous.

 



[i] Reference ‘Draft Proposed Plan Change for the District/Unitary Plan’ supported by the ‘Draft Section 32 Report (Parts 1 and 2)’ and legal opinions documents to be found on www.wdc.govt.nz/PlansPoliciesandBylaws/Plans/Genetic-Engineering/Pages/default.aspx

[iii] http://purehawkesbay.org/overwhelming-support-for-local-decisions-on-gm-free-status-national-poll/

[vi] ‘Long-term persistence of GM oilseed rape in the seedbank’, D’Hertefeldt T et al, Biol Lett. 23 June 2008; 4(3): 314–317. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2610060/.

[ix] Ten years of failure: farmers deceived by GM corn, Masipag 12 June 2014, http://www.grain.org/bulletin_board/entries/4958-ten-years-of-failure-farmers-deceived-by-gm-corn

[xii] ‘The Fire Pines’, Richard Warren and Alfred J Fordham, http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/1040.pdf