October 30, 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
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 than 10%."
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
The result is an ecosystem peculiarly at risk from invasive weeds
A Landcare Research report found that native plants were able to
interbreed with introduced potato, carrot, tomato and celery crops,
potentially destroying rare indigenous species.
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
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 run.
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]."