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9-Misc: Final struggles in New Zealand's Royal Commission on GE

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TITLE:  GE parties fight to finish
SOURCE: New Zealand Herald, by Anne Beston
DATE:   February 26, 2001

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GE parties fight to finish

Accusations of false evidence and a fight over who gets the final say have 
broken out as the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification prepares to wrap 
up. Life Sciences Network, an umbrella group of industry and scientists who 
support genetic engineering, wants the chance to contradict evidence given 
by groups opposed to GE and to put new evidence before the commission. In 
particular, Life Sciences Network wants to refute claims by a key Green 
Party witness, Dr Elaine Ingham of Oregon State University, that genetic 
engineering could devastate plant life. But the network also wants to put 
new evidence to the four commissioners, a move that has angered Greenpeace.

"Life Sciences Network are using this opportunity to present unchallenged 
evidence to the commission and we've expressed concern about that," 
Greenpeace spokeswoman Annette Cotter said. She said extensive cross-
examination of witnesses had already been allowed during the hearings. "We 
don't see what the commission would gain from the presentation of further 
rebuttal evidence."

Commission media officer Sarah Adamson said a legal opinion from the 
commission's lawyers allowed for rebuttal or new evidence. "The opportunity 
is there and it's up to the commissioners to determine whether it's new 
evidence. "One of the tests will be, why wasn't it presented at the time? 
"But one day has been allocated and I would expect it will be used." The 
commission will hold just one more week of formal hearings followed by 
closing submissions from March 12 to 15. The date for rebuttal or new 
evidence is March 9. The commission is due to hand its report to the 
Coalition Government by June 1.

Meanwhile, church groups have told the commission that evil as well as good 
could come from genetic science. Religious groups, including Anglicans, 
Quakers and Jews, put their case and called for a conservative approach to 
genetic engineering. "Profit maximisation" and "market share" were forces 
which could trample over society's less powerful groups, the Anglican 
Church told the commission. Genetic modification of organisms needed to be 
strongly regulated, the church said, to "moderate the excesses of corporate 
enthusiasm." New Zealand Anglicans were strongly opposed to the transfer of 
genes between species, particularly transferring human genes to animals, 
the church said.

The Jewish community told the commission that its members had concerns that 
genetic engineering of food was not kosher and called for compulsory food 
labelling. Many Jews objected to genetically modified foods because 
Kashrut, Judaism's dietary law, prohibits the mixture of plant and animal 
species. They asked the commission to respect Jews' religious rights by 
recommending that all GE foods be labelled.

The Quaker community said release of GE material into the New Zealand 
agricultural environment should be banned and said its members wanted a 
moratorium of no less than 10 to 15 years on all GE plant or animal 
production or field trials. They called for another inquiry into GE and 
said all food that contained any GE material should be labelled. The 
present food labelling requirement, due to come into effect within the next 
year, calls for foods with 1 per cent or more GE content to be labelled.

Last views
* Maori organisations will put their case to the commission this week in 
what is the final week of formal hearings
* A national hui will be held on April 6, 7 and 8 to wrap up the 
commission's Maori consultation programme. It will be held at Turangawaewae 
* Applications for groups to put rebuttal evidence to the commission close 
next Friday at 5 pm
* Ten groups put their evidence to the commission last week, including 
church groups and organic farmers

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