New variety of corn could benefit New Zealand farmers

Published: Mon 16 Jan 2012 06:01 PM
New variety of corn could benefit New Zealand farmers
A new variety of corn that is suitable for organic and biological farming systems could benefit New Zealand farmers who rely on corn seed imports.
A new corn hybrid developed by Blue River Hybrids has been shown to protect corn from pollen drift including GMO pollen [1]. The corn called PuraMaize has been developed through selective traditional parent - line breeding of corn plants which are able to block pollen from other varieties. This gene blocking mechanism is found mainly in tropical corn plant species.
New Zealand farming sector has a zero-tolerance policy for commercial GE crops. This stand supports our clean green and safe food reputation, but in the last decade farmers have experienced a number of instances of GE contamination of corn seed, which have harmed farmers and threatened exports [2].
The corn variety gives farmers a solution in the fight against deliberate or accidental contamination of the food supply by GE constructs.
“This is a welcome development. The new variety has good yields and if grown organically has no chemicals. This is in stark contrast to GE grown crops which have unstable yields, are laden with insecticidal toxins and heavily sprayed with herbicides that affect reproduction and the endocrine system,” says Claire Bleakley, president of GE-Free NZ in food and environment.
In the US 88% of the corn that is grown is genetically engineered [3]. This imported corn seed carries a high-risk of GE contamination for farmers and consumers. With the globalization of food chain, imports of US GE corn and soy foods have impacted countries around the world, including New Zealand.
After 15 years of commercialization of GE, there is now greater risk of exposure to higher level of pesticides in foods than ever before, this is especially concerning for pregnant mothers, children, those with compromised immunity and the elderly [4]. Yet GE crops have been approved through the revolving door of regulatory and business interests, which continues to this day with new untested varieties [5].
“The promises by some scientists, like Tony Connor and Colin Eddie of Plant and Food, that GE we would get rid of the toxic agricultural pesticides, have been proven to be fairy tales” says Claire Bleakley.
In Africa there are many varieties of corn that have been developed through traditional breeding to withstand droughts and pests [5], yet instead of focusing on the sustainable traditional varieties Agri-biotech seed companies are pirating these communal traits then adding their patented genes and claiming the benefits.
The handful of GE food crops approved for commercialisation - corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, sugar beets, sugar, potatoes - are mostly now engineered with insecticidal genes and herbicide resistance genes so they can be sprayed through their growth with a cocktail of herbicides like RoundupReady*, Busta*, 2,4-D*, and Targa*.
In stark contrast to non-GE food plants that cannot withstand herbicides while growing, GE varieties survive and absorb the pesticides, increasing the exposure of consumers to chemicals that are known to be toxic.
“Importers of seed must take care to stay within the law and it is encumbent on them to seek varieties that can give farmers assurance that they are growing seed that is uncontaminated with GE” said Mrs Bleakley.

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