Activist lauds GE-free city

An American activist opposing genetic engineering has praised Nelson as the first part of New Zealand to declare itself free of genetically modified organisms.

Self-published author and speaker Jeffrey Smith gave a talk at the Free House pub this week emphasising the value in keeping genetically engineered products out of New Zealand. It was one of only two talks he gave nationwide.

"New Zealand is very well-poised to take advantage of the economics of going non-GM."

He said there was a growing sentiment in his homeland that genetically modified products should be avoided. He expected a consumer-driven "tipping point" to occur within the next 18 months, saying this would see products containing GM ingredients becoming a "commercial liability".

"At that point, the clean, green image of New Zealand will translate better into economic premiums."

Mr Smith said there was a particularly receptive market available for meat and dairy products which originated from animals that had not eaten GM feed. New Zealand farmers should phase out the use of GM feed and market their meat and dairy in the US, claiming the GE free products would command a premium.

In New Zealand, processed foods can contain GM ingredients but must be labelled accordingly. No GM crops are grown commercially and no GM fruit, vegetables or meat are sold, but meat and other products from animals that have been fed GM food are not required to be labelled.

Mr Smith claimed GE foods had been found to cause health problems, but said studies into this area had been suppressed.

He was not all praise for New Zealand, criticising the local processes in place for the approval of GE products. He said the process was "nowhere near" rigorous enough and did not protect the public, saying it was widely cited internationally as an example of "how regulations should not be conducted".

Based in Iowa, Mr Smith was hosted in New Zealand by non-profit organisation GE Free New Zealand. President Claire Bleakley said it would be enlightening for a local audience to gain insights on the international experience with genetic modification.

She said Mr Smith had joined representatives from GE Free NZ in talks with Green Party MP Steffan Browning, Labour MP Maryan Street and a representative from the Ministry for Primary Industries as they discussed GE Free NZ's objections to the introduction of a certain type of corn.

Mr Smith praised Nelson for its vibrant community opposing genetic engineering, saying it was the first part of New Zealand to symbolically declare itself a GE-free zone. Upper Moutere farmer Susie Lees, who is affiliated with GE Aware Nelson and a member of GE Free NZ, said she was part of a phone poll run by the Nelson Environment Centre in 1997 which led to the policy's establishment.

A representative from the Nelson City Council confirmed the declaration took place in 2001, saying the council also resolved to urge the Government to "fully inquire into the philosophical, ethical and scientific, health and economic implications of genetic engineering".

Mr Smith described Nelson as a "pioneering city", saying it was appropriate that Nelson residents would learn about "cutting edge information" about genetic engineering which would vindicate or validate their concerns.

"I think they'll be happy that they've set the trend that has been established in the country."

The Nelson Mail