US company applies to bring GM potato products into New Zealand

Food from the potato lines that could be imported includes only processed foods such as frozen par-cooked chips, potato ...
ALEX BURTON/STUFF

Food from the potato lines that could be imported includes only processed foods such as frozen par-cooked chips, potato crisps, potato starch and alcohol.

A United States company has applied to export genetically modified potato products into New Zealand, but mystery remains as to exactly what the products are.

It is not asking to export GM potato tubers, because no tubers of any sort can come into New Zealand.

The Soil & Health Association has opposed the application, saying already a large number of genetically engineered foods are on sale in New Zealand, but consumers do not know because labelling laws mean that almost all GE ingredients do not have to be listed on the packaging.

Agribusiness company JR Simplot, located in Boise, Idaho, has applied to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the organisation that controls food approvals for New Zealand and Australia, to export what it describes as "six food lines derived from potatoes".

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When asked what the products were, FSANZ , said "the only food derived from the potato lines that could be imported includes processed foods such as frozen par-cooked chips/fries, potato crisps, potato starch and alcohol".

In the 2000s, Dr Tony Conner from Plant and Food Research at Lincoln University developed GM potatoes with increased ...

In the 2000s, Dr Tony Conner from Plant and Food Research at Lincoln University developed GM potatoes with increased resistance to bacterial rots and the potato-tuber moth. After opposition to his work, he quit.

It did not say which of these products the company might want to export, nor the name of any importer which might want to bring them in. It also said it did not have to name the brand under which they might be sold.   

"FSANZ considers only the safety of a food product entering the food supply. Information on who is involved in the processing of a food product is not required. Information on importing companies is not required," it said in a statement.

Simplot Australia owns the rights to the Birds Eye brand in Australia and New Zealand, and its range includes frozen vegetables, potatoes, fish and snack foods.

JR Simplot said the potatoes that were genetically modified in the US were three common potato varieties - russet burbank, ranger russet and atlantic. The modifications mean they bruise less and produce less of a potentially cancer causing compound called acrylamide.  

Soil & Health said it was concerned about the growing number of genetically engineered foods approved for sale in New Zealand and the long-term and cumulative health effects of consuming them.

"Since 2000 FSANZ has approved every single application for GE food lines, and there are now a staggering 71 different GE food lines approved for sale in New Zealand," Soil & Health chairwoman Marion Thomson said.

Peruvian farmers and activists protested against the law that allowed the entrance of transgenics or genetically ...
PILAR OLIVARES/REUTERS

Peruvian farmers and activists protested against the law that allowed the entrance of transgenics or genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the country.

While a FSANZ safety assessment on the GE potato application had not identified any public health and safety issues, previous FSANZ assessments had been shown to be incomplete, with an absence of biological studies on the impacts of the foods when eaten.

"One of the main concerns about eating GE foods is that many have been grown with dangerous levels of pesticides. Many GE crops are designed to be resistant to pesticides. These crops are designated 'safe' for human consumption by FSANZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries, despite not having undergone adequate safety tests independent of the companies developing them," Thomson said.

FSANZ said its approach to assess the safety of GM food was based on core principles developed almost 20 years ago and published as guidelines by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

"It is widely adopted and implemented around the world. While philosophical opposition to the technology remains, consumers can be confident that GM foods assessed under the protocol and approved for food use are as safe as their conventional counterparts."

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Potatoes NZ chief executive Chris Claridge said if consumers were in doubt they should eat fresh potatoes, which were all grown in New Zealand and were not genetically engineered.

Otherwise they should check labels on crisps and frozen french fries, and buy only New Zealand made.

Last year New Zealand exported 99,000 tonnes of potato products and imported 14,500 tonnes.

FSANZ said it was calling for submissions over the application, which would close on Friday.

 - Stuff

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