2003 -- CropChoice news --The Guardian: A two-year
ban on genetically modified crop trials in New Zealand
was lifted last night, despite warnings that the technology
posed a particular risk to the country's ecological
balance. Two-thirds of residents wanted the moratorium,
imposed in 2001 to allow Wellington to assess the impact
of GM crops, to be extended.
Linda Newstrom of Landcare Research, a government-funded
environmental research group, said the large proportion
of imported species in the country increased the possibility
of GM contamination.
"With any non-indigenous flora, New Zealand is
going to be a lot more vulnerable than most countries,"
she said. "More than half of our plant cover is
non-native, whereas somewhere like Britain it's less
Until the arrival of Maori settlers 1,000 years ago,
the islands had never seen a land mammal. Since then
humans have introduced nearly 20,000 species, and foreign
organisms now outnumber native ones.
The result is an ecosystem peculiarly at risk from
invasive weeds and hybridization.
A Landcare Research report found that native plants
were able to interbreed with introduced potato, carrot,
tomato and celery crops, potentially destroying rare
Nine thousand people marched on the capital this month
calling for the GM moratorium to be preserved. One group
walked 930 miles around North Island and another set
up camp opposite the parliament in Wellington.
Members of an organization called Mothers Against Genetic
Engineering demonstrated naked outside parliament and
unveiled a billboard of a four-breasted woman hooked
up to a milking machine. Maori groups have also been
vocal in opposing GM, as many regard traditional agriculture
as central to their identity.
But much of the pressure for keeping the ban in place
came from food groups, who said the change would damage
New Zealand's reputation for high quality, green produce.
Michael Roche, professor of historical geography at
Massey University, said the debate had been intensified
because New Zealand was dependent on farm exports. "We're
in a pretty exposed international environment, so there's
an element of caution," he said. Two-thirds of
export earnings come from agriculture, horticulture
and forestry, which together account for 17% of GDP.
A government report in April concluded that licensing
GM products could raise farm income by 5%, but the damage
to the industry's image might cost more in the long
Officials expect it to take 18 months after an application
to use GM technology for the first crops to be planted.
The only product being considered at the moment is a
modified onion crop.
Federated Farmers, an organization representing New
Zealand's 18,000 farmers, said the end of the moratorium
would have little effect on the industry. A spokesman,
Hugh Ritchie, said: "You can't say suddenly that
your lamb is contaminated just because there's a modified
onion trial in Canterbury [on the South Island]."