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6-Regulation: New Zealand government plans 2-year GE field trial freeze



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TITLE:  Government plan to keep GE foes on side
SOURCE: New Zealand Herald, by Francesca Mold, Vernon Small, Anne Beston
        http://www.nzherald.co.nz/storydisplay.cfm?reportID=53009
DATE:   October 18, 2001

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Government plan to keep GE foes on side

EXCLUSIVE - The Government is planning a two-year compulsory freeze on GE 
field trials to appease the Green Party and head off a threatened revolt by 
its own Maori MPs. The Maori MPs met on Tuesday night to discuss their 
concerns that senior ministers were leaning towards decisions in line with 
the report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. The Government 
is to announce its decision by October 30. A committee of senior ministers 
will consider the issue again next Thursday and the Cabinet is likely to 
approve the decision on October 29.

Sources last night said Prime Minister Helen Clark was proposing continuing 
the present moratorium for two more years as a compromise between the Maori 
MPs and ministers who favour controlled GM releases. They include 
Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton, Research, Science and Technology Minister 
Pete Hodgson and Finance Minister Michael Cullen. The two-year extension 
would give the Government time to continue investigations recommended by 
the royal commission in July.

These include considering whether GM researchers should bear the liability 
for any damage caused by their experiments. It would also give the Green 
Party a boost for next year's election, enabling them to argue that only a 
strong Green presence in Parliament would preserve the moratorium. The 
Maori MPs have expressed cultural and religious fears about the mixing of 
human cells across species, the status of the Treaty of Waitangi and the 
ability to control field trials. Helen Clark said a wait of about two years 
would protect New Zealand's present status without impeding scientific 
progress.

The Green Party met ministers on Tuesday night, and are understood to have 
made it clear their support for the Government was at stake. "Clearly our 
constituents could not tolerate confidence for a Government that took us 
down the GE road," Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said yesterday. The 
Greens are keen to see a moratorium put into law to avoid the uncertainty 
of ministerial discretion or a voluntary industry ban. They say this 
uncertainty prevents exporters tapping into the economic advantage of New 
Zealand being GM free.

The National Party has offered to free the Government from its reliance on 
the Greens if it decides to implement the commission recommendations, which 
support field trials of GM crops under strict controls and dismiss a GM-
free New Zealand as probably impractical. National's environment spokesman, 
Nick Smith, said the party was willing to "work constructively" with the 
Government to prevent a continued ban on gene research outside the 
laboratory.

Meanwhile, some scientists are worried that the Environmental Risk 
Management Authority - the watchdog set up to control gene research - is 
preparing the ground for stricter GM controls before the Government has 
made its decision. "Erma seems to be getting in quickly to soften us up for 
the Government's decision on the commission's report," said HortResearch 
science manager Dr John Shaw. The new guidelines, sent to research 
organisations this month and issued under last year's amendment to the 
Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, focus on extra monitoring of 
gene experiments and the use of buffer zones between GM and non-GM crops. 
Erma communications manager Julie Watson said the letter was "informal" and 
told scientists applying to do gene experiments what compliance criteria 
they could expect.



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