Otago University Genetics Lecture 'Outdated' and Likely to Mislead
The University of Otago is being challenged to put caveats on claims made in its Genetics lectures, that international
consumer concern over Genetically Modified food can be ignored.
The lectures based on research over ten years, claim our overseas customers won't care about GE in our food exports, and
that there is no risk to Brand New Zealand from Genetically Engineered foods. One study also shows nuclear power
stations, and intensive feed-lots are fine for our Brand and international reputation.
However, the claims are based on research that with hindsight is clearly flawed.
Work by a team led by Otago University Marketing lecturer Associate Professor John Knight, included running food stalls
in different countries to test consumer acceptance of GE food, and interviewing first-time tourists on arrival in
Much of the research was based on the assumption that a key consumer benefit would be that GE food will have fewer toxic
chemical sprays than conventional crops. But data on chemical exposure are showing this to be the least likely outcome
from GE foods over the past decade.
Another assumption was that consumer concerns for food safety were unfounded, and the result of media hype and
scaremongering. The fact that Food Authorities had approved these foods as safe was taken as doctrine. Today scientists
are warning of serious risks evidenced in peer-reviewed studies.
"These basic assumptions are now highly doubtful, which means the data is unreliable and could likely mislead
decision-makers," says Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-Free NZ in food and environment.
"The rosy picture painted that consumers don't mind GE is based on incomplete knowledge on the part of the consumer to
make a reasonable judgement."
The research is also totally blind to Brand marketing: promoting New Zealand products as GE-free and meeting the highest
organic standards for purity in the world, both of which fit our values and clean green image.
"There is a need for successful Brands to be authentic and consistent in their positioning," says Jon Carapiet.
"What is the opportunity cost in not protecting and leveraging a GE-free brand positioning for food exports, and having
the highest organic food standards in the world?"
The University of Otago should act responsibly by ensuring there are caveats around the claims being made in the latest
Decision-makers in government and industry would be wrong to believe from these lectures that Brand New Zealand can only
gain, and has nothing to lose from 'going GE', instead of promoting GE-free and organic production, and using gene
science ethically inside the lab.
Of course consumers overseas care about GE. Look at the battle for GE-labelling going on today in California, with
Monsanto throwing in millions of dollars to oppose it.