Previously known as Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics PSRGNZ - Charitable Trust
Affiliated to the international organisation PSRAST - Physicians and Scientists for the Responsible Application of Science and Technology
As required under the new 2005 Charities Act, PSGR has reregistered as a charitable trust.

14 December 2011

 

The Right Hon. John Key Prime Minister

Government Buildings

WELLINGTON

 

Dear John Key

It is with concern that we read details of the research by the Ministry for the Environment into the potential application of genetically engineered/modified organisms outside of a laboratory.  While New Zealand has worked soundly in this field in projects requiring the strictest confinement, there has been long-standing and strong public and academic opposition to approval of these novel organisms for release into any environment.

 

PSGR understands that the MfE research is aimed at better understanding “the real additional net benefit New Zealand might gain from any future changes in the regulatory regime” and whether the compliance costs faced by applicants is appropriate.  The understanding is that the proposed research may be one of a series of studies apparently aimed at justifying the environmental release of genetically engineered organisms in New Zealand.  The research would suggest government is looking at monetary gain in the short term and not taking into account the long term risks.

We ask who, in ten year’s time, would be held accountable for environmental damage.  Once released, these novel organisms self-replicate and can contaminate wild species.  For example, witness the huge problem the US has with herbicide resistant weed species.1 Australia’s annual bill for ‘superweed’ damage to agriculture and the environment is reportedly AUD$4 billion.2 As increasing numbers of weeds become resistant, farmers apply greater amounts of weed killer.  In the US, the most common resistance is to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide.3 The company’s publicised solution is to mix glyphosate with a chemical such as 2,4-D, an active ingredient in Agent Orange.  It is a mixture Monsanto patented in 2001 and has vested interest in promoting.  Such a solution would obviously be detrimental to any New Zealand low pesticide/Clean Green/organic claim.

Globally, uncountable varieties of food crops have been lost to agriculture with privatisation, industrialisation and land clearance, and the advent of monocultures and agrichemicals.  Chemically-resistant weeds pose as great a risk to diversity and the sustainability of non-transgenic crop species.  PSGR maintains that releasing such novel organisms puts at risk New Zealanders, our agricultural, forestry and tourism industries, and thus our economy, and the wider environment.

The MfE research suggests a government policy to weaken the high bio-security standards established and of which New Zealand can be justifiably proud.  With the demise of the Bio-Ethics Council, independent ethical and moral dimensions are lost and government has no unbiased guide to the risks of abandoning any low pesticide/Clean Green/organic claim in exchange for free trade; effectively, bowing to the pressure of vested interests and short term results.

PSGR suggests research funding should go to supporting low pesticide use, and to sustaining GE free and organic labels.  This has been the demand of the majority of New Zealanders since the first appearance of genetically engineered organisms and is economically advantageous to New Zealand.

International trade agreements can put unacceptable pressure on our food sovereignty, including conventional and organic primary produce, and put their profitable, key markets at risk.  It is clear that transnational companies have invested billions in genetic engineering technology.  It does not mean that New Zealand and its public have to meet any of that cost.

A clear indication that New Zealanders have the support of their government would be mandatory labelling for all foods using genetic engineering technology to any extent.  This would also increase our international standing as a ‘GE free’ nation, one we can trade on very profitably.

We refer you to our website containing extensive material on genetic engineering technology in support of the above and to our correspondence with yourself and your predecessors, also available on our website:  www.psgr.org.nz.

We look forward to having your assurance on sustaining the sovereignty of our food and the protection of New Zealanders, our economy and environment.

 

Signed on behalf of the Trustees of Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility

Jean Anderson

List of Trustees

 

References:

1. Lim Jung Lee, Jeremy Ngim, ‘A first report of glyphosate-resistant goosegrass (Eleusine indica (L) Gaertn) in Malaysia’, Pest Management Science, 56:4, pp 336–339, March 2000, www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/71000393/abstract.

Piñeyro-Nelson et al, ‘Transgenes in Mexican maize: molecular evidence and methodological considerations for GMO detection in landrace populations’, Molecular Ecology, February 2009, 18(4): 750–761, www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/121577870/abstract.

2. Prentis et al, ‘Adaptive evolution in invasive species’, Trends in Plant Science, 13:6, June 2008, pp 288–294, www.cell.com/trends/plant-science/abstract/S1360-1385%2808%2900126-X; ‘Stop the superweeds: Adelaide biologist,’ 6 April 2009, Independent Weekly, www.independentweekly.com.au/news/local/news/environment/stop-the-superweeds-adelaide-biologist/1479477.aspx.

3. Watrud et al, ‘Evidence for landscape-level, pollen-mediated gene flow from genetically modified creeping bentgrass with CP4 EPSPS as a marker’, 2004, www.pnas.org/content/101/40/14533.

Jet Hermida, ‘Monsanto farmlands plagued by superweeds,’ 26 April 2009, http://asiadhrra.org/wordpress/2009/04/26/monsanto-farmlands-plagued-by-superweeds; ‘Superweeds' jam the pesticide treadmill, 13 November 2009, http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/superweeds_jam_pesticide_treadmill.

International Survey of Herbicide-resistant Weeds www.weedscience.org/In.asp; http://southeastfarmpress.com/cotton/weed-resistance-0918; http://cornandsoybeandigest.com/ag-issues/glyphosate-resistance-rising-0201; www.france24.com/en/20090418-superweed-explosion-threatens-monsanto-heartlands-genetically-modified-US-crops.

Robinson, E, ‘Designing the perfect week – Palmer amaranth’, Farm Press, 24 December 2008,http://deltafarmpress.com/cotton/palmer-amaranth-1226.

Wilkinson et al, 2003. ‘Hybridization between Brassica napus and B. rapa on a national scale in the United Kingdom’, Science, 17 October 2003: 302(5644): 457–459, www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/302/5644/457?etoc.

Culpepper et al, ‘Glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) confirmed in Georgia’, Weed Science 54(4): 620–626. 2006, www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1614/WS-06-001R.1; ‘Explosion Threatens Monsanto Heartlands France,’ 2 May 2009, www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0905/S00064.htm.

Urbano et al, ‘Glyphosate-resistant Hairy Fleabane (Conyza Bonariensis) in Spain’, Weed Technology April 2007, 21(2): 396–401, www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1614/WT-06-096.1.