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Corngate inquiry Must Go Further

Published: Tue 22 Oct 2002 12:35 AM
Corngate inquiry Must Go Further
Corngate inquiry into GE contamination must investigate inside-deals between government and "predatory" biotech-companies. Alarm as EU seed companies and US government accelerate push for universal GE seed contamination.
GE Free New Zealand in Food and Environment hopes the actions taken by pharmaceutical company Novartis- creator of GE crops, foods and drugs- will come under scrutiny during the inquiry into Corngate, to ensure dealings with government have not compromised the national interest. Novartis recently signed a lucrative deal with Pharmac to supply leukaemia drugs to New Zealand, and questions have been raised about the company's role and influence in negotiations with government on the contaminated seed incident.
"The lobbying of Novartis in the Corngate fiasco, during a moratorium on genetic engineering, resulting in government inaction and acquiescence points to a 'you scratch my back' attitude by government," says Susie Lees of GE Free NZ. "Pharmaceutical companies are predatory around the world, New Zealand appears to actively promote and subsidise them." The government was originally set to destroy GE contaminated crops but decided not to plough them in after meetings with Novartis. The promotion of contamination thresholds to be established was also apparent in MAF submission documents received under the Official Information Act by GE Free NZ. "The biotechnology companies who originally told us that GE contamination wouldn't occur say now it is impossible to avoid. It is time to disallow seed imports if we are going to continue to have the right to eat GE Free produce in New Zealand and enjoy premiums for our agricultural economy," said Susie.
The US government submission in its response to the MAF draft seed protocol also threatens basic measures to protect our biosecurity. The US submission stated that New Zealand should not impose 'unfair trade restrictions on countries that allow production of biotech varieties' by insisting on testing from countries that weren't free of genetically engineered crops. Meanwhile biotechnology companies promoting GE seeds have met in Belgium to agree universal thresholds of GE contamination - despite opposition from European governments, farmers, and consumers. A report by Greenpeace (Brussels 21st Oct 2002) reveals European Seed Industry have met behind high security to push acceptance of genetic contamination in EU agriculture. A high security cordon has been thrown around the Crown Plaza hotel where the European Seed Association (ESA) is meeting behind closed doors to discuss contamination of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in seeds. High on the agenda of the ESA Annual Meeting is a strategy to allow genetic contamination of European agriculture by introducing legal tolerance thresholds for unlabelled GMOs in conventional seeds. The association, dominated by the big genetic engineering (GE) companies Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer (former Aventis) has been lobbying for these tolerance thresholds to be included in a new EU Commission Directive. This Directive is to be approved in the coming months under the so-called 'comitology' procedure, with no involvement of either the EU Environment ministers or the European Parliament In an unusual move, both the European Parliament and Council of EU Environment ministers are being excluded from the decision making process on this controversial measure.
" This push is an alarming move to force everyone to accept GE contamination. It is immoral to do so, not just because of the denial of choice, but because some GE constructs are known to cause harm. When companies want to use plants to produce pharmaceuticals they had better guarantee 100% separation or face the inevitable lawsuits for the damage they cause." says Susie Lees.

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