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ecoglobe [yinyang] news (10 May 1999)
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Draft conclusions of the Lay Panel of 8 May 1999 on Genetically Engineered Foods
[running away]
[Editor's note: At the end of the forum the panel explained that they had had only "90 seconds" to write their conclusions. For this reason the panel largely copied the conclusions from their 1996 forum. Therefore the below conclusions are a draft only.
It should be noted that the positive tone of the 1996 conclusions does not correspond with ecoglobe's qualification of a "vote of no confidence" by the 1999 panel (panel's report).

The Panel's Draft Conclusions

Research into plant genetic engineering has been on-going in excess of twenty years and it is now too late to "return the genie to the bottle".

In addition to the obvious genetic modification techniques, genetic engineering research enables scientists and researchers to gather information about genes without modifying them, a very valuable, non-intrusive research tool.

Ownership of plants and genes raises many questions and issues, in particular, ethical considerations. Rather than drafting new legislation the New Zealand model should look at using and/or modifying existing patent legislation.

The fact that Aotearoa/New Zealand has taken a conservative approach to the implementation of plant biotechnology is to be applauded and augurs well for the future. We should continue to monitor and observe overseas developments and be willing to learn, adopt and/or adapt as appropriate.

Developments since the panel originally met suggest that the approach adopted in Aotearoa/New Zealand was not as conservative as originally perceived. The approach has, however, been responsible and the ERMA and ANZFA Standards and Assessment Procedures backed up by the FOOD ASSURANCE AUTHORITY enforcement agency will help ensure that this remains the case. There is a need to continue to monitor and observe overseas developments and adopt best practice.

There is a deficiency in public awareness and education, with regard to the technology and its effects, that needs to be addressed. The whole population has the right to be informed.

It is impossible to provide cast-iron guarantees that this technology will not have an adverse effect on the environment. We believe the current voluntary codes and the comprehensive HSNO legislation, when operational, will provide adequate safeguards, if enforced.

We consider that the effects of plant biotechnology on plant biodiversity will be no more damaging than those caused by natural cross-breeding and traditional breeding techniques.

We recognise that the comparability of Maori values and beliefs with plant biotechnology presents special challenges which are already being considered within the structure of the Treaty of Waitangi.

We have to accept plant biotechnology is a reality and it is better that it be conducted in an open environment where checks and controls can be put in place and the process open to public scrutiny.

It appears that within New Zealand the assessment and regulatory process is being advanced by the assessment authorities, ERMA and ANZFA, the yet to be established Food Assurance Authority enforcement agency. These organisations must be sufficiently funded to provide the level of assurance and legal safeguards in respect to food containing genetically modified organisms to protect the health and safety of consumers.

Consumers need to have the opportunity to be involved in the decision making process to a greater extent than is currently available.

Despite the complexities, the problem of labelling should not be put in the 'too hard basket'. There is a need to think outside the square, for example certification on producer level before the food enters the processing stage.

There is a need to address the issue of long-term testing for a range of health risks. At the same time, some form of indemnity scheme, funded by the producers and processors of products containing genetically modified organisms, and that the scheme should not result in an increased cost to consumers.

These checks and controls must not stop at the research and testing phases, but must complete the cycle by including the 'finished’ product. Consumers have the right to choose what they eat and producers and processors have a responsibility and should have a legal obligation, to provide clear information that allows this. There may not be a 'simple' answer, however, that is not sufficient reason not to do so.

Back to ecoglobe's Conference Overview
Back to the Lay Forum Report
Download the audio proceedings of the "Plant Biotechnology 2" conference

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ecoglobe [yinyang] news (10 May 1999)
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