Comvita adds voice to GE trials caution

Comvita adds voice to GE trials caution

By John Cousins      Bay of Plenty Times

8:30 AM Friday Nov 29, 2013 
Cultural consultant Buddy Mikaere is standing for a tougher council stance on genetic engineering. Cultural consultant Buddy Mikaere is standing for a tougher council stance on genetic engineering.

One of the Bay's biggest exporters Comvita has backed moves to single out genetic engineering as deserving a "precautionary approach" by the region's environmental watchdog.

The Paengaroa-based company joined seven others in the Environment Court yesterday to fight a bid by the New Zealand Forest Research Institute (Scion) to stop the the Bay of Plenty Regional Council adopting a cautionary stance toward GE field trials.

Comvita, whose honey exports of $80 million rely on New Zealand's clean green image, has highlighted the huge financial impact if a GE organism was released into the environment.

Scientists, activists, orchardists, organic farmers and Maori culture united to support the council which wants to signal its concern about the risks from genetic modification trials in its regional policy statement.

Scion has challenged the validity of the council singling out genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as warranting a precautionary approach.

But the council stopped short of elevating GMOs to a "matter of significance" which would have had a flow-on effect into its planning documents by the introduction of specific rules.

Scion argued that singling out GMOs as deserving a precautionary approach was neither justified nor warranted and could have unintended consequences.

Most of yesterday's evidence in the first day of a two-day hearing dealt with arguments put up by the council and submitters supporting the council's position.

Sharon Seager from Comvita, the world's largest manufacturer of manuka honey, said GE crops would seriously affect sales, especially in Europe where New Zealand's GMO-free status was a marketing advantage.

She said it only needed 0.9 per cent of pollen to be GE pollen for the honey to be labelled as "containing ingredients produced from GMOs

"The release of GMOs into the environment poses a significant risk to New Zealand's international brand for natural produce." Natural Produce New Zealand was aiming for sales of $1 billion by next year.

She said it was appropriate that the council identified GMOs as requiring a precautionary approach, given the uncertainty surrounding possible impacts and the significant threat they posed.