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.

7 March 2016

For the attention of all New Zealand Councils and Councillors

As elected representatives we acknowledge your responsibility and concerns for land use, limiting the consequences of releasing genetically engineered organisms into your environment, and preserving the reputation and integrity of regional economies for exporting clean, safe, GE-free products that New Zealand's overseas markets want from us.

PSGR has addressed informative letters to all Councillors in New Zealand regularly since 2003.  Today, we learned that one Councillor admitted not knowing what genetically engineered organisms are.  That Councillor is also unaware of the tremendous efforts over a decade made by the Northland Councils, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, and Auckland Council to protect ratepayers from the risks of releasing these genetically engineered organisms into the environment, or that Hawkes Bay is working towards the same goal and other Councils acknowledge their importance.

This situation has led us to send the following material.  We ask every Councillor to read and absorb so that each can meet their duty of care to those in their region from a sound knowledge base.

(N.B. Genetic engineering, genetic modification and transgenic are synonymous.  Biotechnology is also used to describe this technology when genetic engineering technology is in fact only a small part of biotechnology.)

The Inter-Council Working Party on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Risk Evaluation and Management Options (ICWP)

The ICWP was established to response to community concerns in the Northland region about GMOs.  The Far North, Whangarei, and Kaipara District Councils, Auckland Council and Northland Regional Council are represented in the working party.  The following is a summary from the Whangarei District Council website[1]:

Three major reports commissioned by the Working Party have identified a range of risks involved with the trialling and release of GMOs.  They also include approaches to managing those risks.

Environmental risks

·         GMOs becoming invasive and affecting non-target species including indigenous flora and fauna

·         The development of herbicide or pesticide resistance creating 'super-weeds' or 'super-pests'

·         Long-term effects on ecosystem functioning.

Socio-cultural risks

·         Effects on Maori cultural beliefs of whakapapa, mauri, tikanga

·         Ethical concerns about mixing genes from different species including human genes

·         Concerns about the long term safety of genetically modified food.

Economic risks

·         Loss of income through contamination (or perceived contamination) of non-GMO food products

·         Negative effects on marketing and branding opportunities such as 'clean and green' or 'naturally Northland'

·         Costs associated with environmental damage such as clean-up costs for invasive weeds or pests.

Linked to these risks are limited liability provisions under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996.[2]

The Councils’ concerns outlined above have been challenged in the Environment Court.  In December 2013, the Environment Court in Tauranga awarded Councils the right to enact policies and rules around genetically engineered organisms in land-based activities if their communities have significant objection.[3]  A recent Whangarei Environment Court ruling affirmed the right of councils to regulate transgenic organisms and a further challenge taken to the High Court, decision pending.

What is genetic engineering?

Genetic engineering (GE) is the artificial, direct alteration of an organism's DNA.  It usually involves genes being taken from a natural host and inserted into a new host.  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.

PSRG sees fundamental research into these and other aspects of molecular biology as important to New Zealand - for example, using the technology to produce pharmaceutical and industrial materials – but also sees that health and scientific professionals in New Zealand, indeed worldwide, have grave concerns about aspects of genetic engineering technology.  

Biotechnology has added much of value to our agricultural and scientific heritage.  However, the trial and error approach to evaluating the effects of genetic engineering is inappropriate and dangerous when novel organisms are released into the environment.  The natural complex inter-relationships between organisms are genetically determined in ways about which we have little knowledge.  Read more on the PSGR website, Frequently Asked Questions http://www.psgr.org.nz/faqs and elsewhere on our website.

Currently, New Zealand runs a limited scale open trial of genetically engineered trees near Rotorua.  Other experiments are carried out in containment.   

Approving transgenic organisms for release into the New Zealand environment is the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).  However, once the EPA approves a genetically engineered organism for release their responsibility ends.  There is no monitoring of effects, good or adverse.

PSGR maintains that the risks – proven overseas in abundance – should not be allowed to contaminate the New Zealand environment, both physical and human.  This is where New Zealand Councils must have a say.  The Northland Councils and Bay of Plenty Regional Council have precautionary statements in their plans.  Auckland Council and Hawkes Bay Council are working towards this.  These regions represent near to half of the New Zealand population, the majority of whom do not want genetically engineered organisms released into the environment as surveys have shown.[4] [5] [6]  Hastings District has gone so far as to become “GE Free”.[7]

The proposed changes to the Resource Management Act would disallow Councils from protecting their region.  PSGR opposes the changes based on the record of past decisions made by New Zealand’s central government and regulatory authorities.

New Zealand is in a unique position in that our borders are bounded by extensive distances of sea.  Contamination is virtually impossible by air-borne DNA coming over those seas.  We can protect this country’s environment and retain it as Clean Green and 100% Pure.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries requires testing of imported seed for the presence of transgenic seed for specific species and varieties of the following genera:  Brassica, Glycine, Medicago and Zea.[8]  Despite testing of the hundreds of kilograms of imported maize seed for sowing annually[9] the presence of transgenes has been found in Sweet Corn and maize multiple times.[10]  Food imports contaminated by genetically engineered organisms represent a risk to the international food and feed trade.[11]

As long ago as August 2000, Professor Patrick Brown said:  “The real threat to the future of plant biotechnology is the irresponsible and premature releases of the first generation of GMOs that are full of unsound scientific assumptions, rife with careless science, and arrogantly dismissive of valid concerns.”[12]

According to AgWeb Monsanto, DuPont/Pioneer, Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences own 80 percent of the US corn market and 70 percent of the soybean business, and control over half the world's seed supply.  The introduction of transgenic crops corresponds with increasing monopolization of seed and thus higher seed costs.  While proponents point to the high adoption rates of transgenic corn and soybeans by US farmers as evidence of strong demand for GE seeds, a major reason is a phasing out of non-GE varieties.

Some plants are genetically engineered with one trait, some with more than one.  This latter is ‘gene stacking’.  The most common traits are herbicide resistance and with genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis to produce a Bt insecticide. 

Tolerance to herbicide/s occurs where a chemical is overused, growing vast plantings of monoculture crops, the overreliance on a single herbicide, and neglect of other weed control measures.  The convenience of the glyphosate system encourages farmers to abandon practices that are part of a weed control strategy.

Since the introduction of transgenic crops resistant to glyphosate two decades ago, its use in the US has increased dramatically.[13]  Agri-chemical resistant ‘super’ weeds have spread to over 60 million acres of US farmland.  The suggested solution is to use chemicals such as 2,4-D and dicamba which are more toxic and both of which belong to a chemical class that has been associated with increased rates of diseases, including non-Hodgkins lymphoma.[14]  An industry solution is even more genetically engineered crops which scientists see as creating new generations of increasingly more intractable weeds controlled with yet more herbicides, leading to an era of much increased use of and dependence on pesticides.

Introduced genes can transfer to other species in a process called horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Transgenic DNA has crossed between corn/maize varieties, between canola varieties, and between transgenic crops and wild relatives.  Just five years after the release of the first genetically engineered commercial crops in Alberta, Canada, chemical and DNA tests confirmed canola volunteers had acquired resistance to three chemicals:  Roundup, Liberty and Pursuit.[15] [16] 

In Argentina, soy resistant to Monsanto’s proprietary herbicide, Roundup, and its active ingredient, glyphosate, and transgenic corn/maize comprise 100% of crop production.  A survey by Friends of the Earth found agricultural chemical use has increased from 34 million litres in 1990 to 317 million litres in 2013 and the application rate has risen from 3 to 12 litres per hectare.

Corn/maize engineered with genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis produce Bt insecticide in every cell of the plant.  In many guises, corn is an ingredient in a huge range of processed food products.  The epidemiological effects of large-scale ingestion of such toxins have not been sufficiently or independently studied.  The effects of Bt on agriculture workers has shown adverse health risks.  Soy is equally used widely in processed food products. 

A prime indicator of why New Zealand should not grow genetically engineered crops is that insurance companies will not insure against damage from transgenes and governments are reluctant to legislate, claiming that liability for any damage is ‘socialized’.  

When Minister for the Environment, David Benson-Pope, confirmed that if transgenic contamination occurs in New Zealand it will be the person or persons affected by the pollution who will pay - local councils and growers - not the polluter.

An increasing number of New Zealand Councils are looking at the issue of how to handle genetically engineered organisms in their region.  Concerns cover contamination, and the impact on local industry, agriculture, health and tourism.  It is vital that Councils and Councillors understand the risks and act accordingly to meet their duty of care to ratepayers. 

 

The Trustees and Members of Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility Charitable Trust

 

Further reference material:

‘Jurisdiction of Councils to Regulate GMOs under the RMA, Response to Christensen and Nicolle, Anderson Lloyd Lawyers’

Dr Kerry Grundy, Convener Inter-Council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options

http://www.rmla.org.nz/upload/files/obiter/jurisdiction_of_councils_to_regulate_gmos_under_the_rma_-_dr_k_grundy.pdf

Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States, Fernandez-Cornejo et al, Economic Research Report No. (ERR-162) 60 pp, February 2014 http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1282246/err162.pdf

The International Survey of Herbicide-Resistant Weeds monitors the evolution of the most common herbicide resistance genes across a wide range of weedy species.  See http://weedscience.org/.

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA)

List of GE crops and information on them http://www.isaaa.org/gmapprovaldatabase/cropslist/

The ETC Group - Seeds & Genetic Diversity

http://www.etcgroup.org/issues/seeds-genetic-diversity

The Union of Concerned Scientists

Genetic Engineering Benefits: Promise vs. Performance

http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/genetic-engineering-benefits.html#.VtnefkCqCuI

Failure to Yield:  Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops

http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/failure-to-yield.html#.VtneykCqCuI

High and Dry: Why Genetic Engineering Is Not Solving Agriculture's Drought Problem in a Thirsty World http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/high-and-dry.html#.VtnfKECqCuI

Ends



[3] https://www.boprc.govt.nz/media/321876/environment-court-decision-18-dec-2013-env-2012-339-000041-part-one-section-17.pdf

[11] https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/fao-study-cases-of-gmo-contamination-rise/  FAO study: Cases of GMO contamination rise, Philippe Collet, 20 March 2014 (updated: 27 Mar 2014)

[12] The Promise of Plant Biotechnology - The Threat of Genetically Modified Organisms, Patrick Brown, Professor, College of Agriculture & Environmental Science, University of California Davis, August 2000. http://www.psrast.org/promplantbiot.htm