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.

18 April 2013                                         

The Right Hon John Key              

Prime Minister                            

Parliament Buildings                                    

WELLINGTON                                  

 

cc Ministries for Primary Industries; Environment.  Ministries of Business, Innovation and Employment; Foreign Affairs and Trade; Health; Māori Development; Social Development; Women's Affairs; all Members of Parliament, New Zealand Councils, District Health Boards, and Community and Local Boards; relevant community groups and NGOs

Dear Mr Key

 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the welfare of New Zealand and its people

Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility is a Charitable Trust established to provide independent scientific assessment and advice on matters relating to genetic engineering, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, (bio)geo-engineering and other scientific matters.

Ensuring protection for New Zealand and New Zealanders against harm from genetic engineering and novel technologies

We are concerned about the alleged secrecy surrounding clauses in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) under negotiation.  While discretion is to be expected in any negotiation, PSGR asks your government to release clear acknowledgement that New Zealanders and the New Zealand environment will be safeguarded and not jeopardized in respect to the risks associated with genetic engineering, nanotechnology, synthetic biology and (bio)geo-engineering.  Free Trade must not be at the expense of New Zealand industry and agriculture, its environment, or the values and well-being of New Zealanders, and it must not infringe in any way the basic human right of the public to freedom of choice.

We write because there has been no such assurance so far, despite indications that negotiations are proposing unacceptable compromises on standards and duty of care.

 

Potential gains from any new technology must be weighed against the risks.  Corporate interest and their commercial agenda are not always in alignment with the public interest and the democratic agenda.  Even now without the TPPA there appears to be a narrowly focused commercial imperative to use public research funding to pursue patents on products and technologies that can then be on-sold to the private sector.  This is exemplified in the hundreds of millions of New Zealand’s public research dollars being wasted on researching new technologies, such as genetic engineering (GE) of tree and food crops, which although patentable and perhaps ‘glamorous’ carry unacceptable risks to New Zealand’s public and strategic interests.  For example, the Crown Research Institute Scion is not only wasting millions of the publicly unaccountable research dollars on pursuing GE tree technology but is also spending public funds in an attempt to override local government’s precautionary approach to releasing genetically engineered organisms (GEOs) into the environment, a public interest safeguard. It seems that this narrow commercial imperative is not considered within the broader national context of legal responsibility to the public interest, the strategic interest of New Zealand’s bio-security, its brand and its long-term trading and economic interests.  A publicly accountable and inclusive decision-making process is urgently required to enable the public’s scientific research funds to be invested on the basis of merit in regards to the public interest.

The negotiations for the TPPA is with multiple countries representing their own and their multiple corporate interests.   It is therefore predictable that there will be an increase in vested interests seeking freedoms to operate within New Zealand.  In the current situation, although there have been relatively few existing vested interests challenging the regulatory system in New Zealand, successive New Zealand governments have failed the public interest and New Zealand bio-security through not ensuring adequate public consultation and oversight and not ensuring effective independent regulation for hazardous substances and new organisms. There have been multiple incidences of bio-security breaches due to transgenic importation or use, including the importation of thousands of tons of transgenic-containing animal feed and the breaking of conditions of various plant and animal GEO experiments in New Zealand.  This suggests that government needs to prioritise significant resources, as soon as possible, to ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reformed to be a genuinely independent, publicly accountable and fully functional regulator in its task of protecting the public interest in the face of many vested interests.  Having a fully functioning existing regulator provides a basis for negotiating a post-TPPA regulator which also functions well to protect the public/environmental interest.

Six multinational corporations liberally applying genetic engineering technology are Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Monsanto and DuPont.  They control 59.8% of commercial seeds, 76.1% of agrochemicals, and account for at least 76% of private sector R&D in these two sectors.[i] This concentration of control over the world’s agriculture is concerning and behoves caution for countries seeking to maintain their own food supply sustainability.

As citizens of New Zealand, a sovereign democracy, we insist that administrative law principles are followed by our government (Government/government) in regards to the consideration of any new public policy such as that which the TPPA may require, including all matters of environmental policy.   We are mindful of the lobbies of some of the world’s most influential countries and companies and their influence on government and the need to ensure that necessary measures are taken to ensure that private and corporate vested interest and the possible vested interest of some advisors to the New Zealand government is kept subservient to the public interest at all times.  The precautionary principle recognises that it is impossible to guarantee safety of GEOs in the food chain or the environment with current GEO technology and that a lack of evidence of harm does not constitute evidence of safety.

We would therefore ask government to guarantee that:

  • advisors on public policy publicly declare any vested interests that they may have in regards to policy outcomes and that their declaration of interest be publicly challengeable;
  • advisors with conflicts of interest be required to remove themselves from any decision-making or policy-making process in which they have a conflict of interest.  For instance, the public interest would require that Dr William Rolleston, a previous head of the pro-genetic engineering lobby group the Life Sciences Network follow this process;
  • officers or political parties be required to avoid accepting benefits from those with vested interests and to declare publicly any such benefits received in the past;
  • policy considerations with the potential to detrimentally effect the public interest be subject to an appropriate public submission process to enable full public participation in shaping such policy.   That the decision makers considering public submissions and policy decisions are chosen so that they are free of vested interests and that they are supported to fulfil their responsibilities under administrative law and with public oversight;
  • TPPA negotiations will not further impinge on New Zealand’s present or future ‘GE Free’ and organic status and will keep the ‘Clean Green’, ‘Brand New Zealand’, ‘GE Free’ logos and any organic brands/logos viable and valid;
  • New Zealand’s labelling laws will not be sacrificed to gain a trade agreement and that any foods containing genetically engineered organism derived foods be labelled as such;
  • that any article of agreement under the TPPA or other trade agreement will be prevented from restricting the capacity of government to prevent land contamination by prohibiting such actions as the commercial release of transgenic organisms (GEOs) that may be requested by trading partners under the TPPA or similar agreement; 
    • New Zealanders are protected by ensuring that transgenes in any form will not be accepted or approved for release into the New Zealand environment or food chain, including the use of animal feed containing transgenes, in keeping with the precautionary principle.  The precautionary principle recognises that it is impossible to guarantee safety of GEOs in the food chain or the environment, with current GEO technology and that a lack of evidence of harm does not constitute evidence of safety.  However, if there was a strongly recognised public good for a transgenic release into the environment, or into the food chain, that a decision on this occurring would require stringent safety testing carried out by independent scientists who have no vested interest in the outcome and an appropriate public consultation and decision making process;
    • New Zealand public’s requirement for precaution and independently conducted sound science, public-health protection and monitoring, and preservation of farmer and consumer choice, will not be subject to compromises or be further undermined by the TPPA or other trade agreement;
    • if there was a strongly recognised public good for a transgenic release into the environment, or into the food chain, that a decision on this occurring would require stringent safety testing carried out by independent scientists who have no vested interest in the outcome and an appropriate public consultation and public decision making process which followed a precautionary approach;
    • urgent precautionary regulation and policy be put in place regarding nanotechnology, synthetic biology and (bio)geo-engineering and provide assurance of protection to the New Zealand public that it will not be compromised or undermined by articles in the TPPA or other trade agreement;
    • New Zealanders will be assured that risks associated with new technology such as the release of the products of synthetic biology and (bio)geo-engineering, and the manufacture of nano-materials in any form will not be accepted or approved for New Zealand without following the precautionary principle and public consultation and a public decision making process and that this protection will not be compromised by TPPA agreements. 

Summary

PSGR urges government to apply a stronger precautionary policy on genetically engineered organisms, nanotechnology, synthetic biology and (bio)geo-engineering to meet its duty of care to protect New Zealanders and environmental health and well-being.  That government provide assurance to New Zealanders that if New Zealand joins the TPPA it will have its own sovereign and independent regulatory processes which will apply the precautionary approach in all areas, including in regards to new technology, hazardous substances and new organisms and food and water.

The foundation for the above requests is a detailed and independent assessment of key evidence relating to these technologies.  We look forward to your addressing our concerns and requests.

 

The Trustees of Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility

 


[i] http://www.etcgroup.org/