Pacific Institute of Resource Management
advisory board

Submissions to New Zealand Government

Return to submissions list

9 December 2003  

Jane Coombs

Environment Division

Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade

Private Bag 18901





PIRM, founded in 1984, is an organisation dedicated to sustainable use of the earth’s resources. We are concerned about deteriorating global ecosystems, rapid depletion of natural resources and degradation of the environment, examples being climate change, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, pollution of water systems and natural habitats. Our objectives are to advocate respect for natural processes; conservation of physical resources and integrity of all life forms. We contribute to the establishment of New Zealand as a strong, independent active authority advocating implementation of a world conservation strategy. We publish Pacific Ecologist, make submissions and hold public meetings.


For the first time in more than 65 million years, the world is in the early phases of a mass extinction of species, resulting from human impacts on the biosphere. More than 500 New Zealand plant and animal species are categorised as threatened (marine species excluded) by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. This is a serious matter, particularly as NZ is the only “developed” nation that is wholly a biological hot spot.


The Pacific Institute of Resource Management, (PIRM) urgently requests Ministry for Foreign Affairs & Trade to counsel the government to ratify the Cartagena Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to protect New Zealand ’s and the world’s biodiversity from known and unknown hazards of genetically modified organisms, and to fulfil our international obligations under the international Biodiversity Convention to conserve biodiversity. In a time of  global mass extinctions this is even more essential. New Zealand ’s future will depend not only on the health of its own biodiversity but also on the health of the world’s biodiversity. New Zealand ’s biodiversity is already seriously under threat through introduced species. As well, through not ratifying the Protocol, New Zealand is in contravention of obligations under basic Human Rights Conventions, i.e. the rights of all people’s to food security. - see  E-F below


Some major points we would like answers to from the Ministry, are noted A-R; some references are documented at end of this submission - others can be found in the enclosed issue of Pacific Ecologist.


A.    The prospect of more serious ecological damage - e.g. loss of key pollinators - through the spread of GMOs that will not be able to be recalled, is likely (see below)  - and will be impossible to remedy.  This will certainly affect trade. Precautionary action is essential with GMOs, since little is known about their interaction in the wider environment over time, as Minister for Environment, Marion Hobbs has said. Insurance companies are refusing to insure against GMO damage.



Third world countries & EU ratify protocol & want protection from GMOs - Why not NZ ?

On Sept 11, the Cartagena Protocol to the Convention on Biodiversity was ratified by over 55 countries, including African and other third world countries and the EU. The protocol allows countries to reject GMOs and GE food on grounds of threats to food security and biodiversity. 


(NB - A faulty reason, often given by biotech enthusiasts and particularly industrialised countries for supporting GM agriculture is that it will feed poor, third world countries and starving people.  Yet it is well established that lack of food and hunger in the world is largely caused through inequity and rigged terms of trade whereby the US insists third world countries open their markets, while the US increases its subsidies & protections, thus destroying livelihoods and incomes of millions of third world farmers.  This is what caused third world countries to walk out on the Cancun trade talks in September this year. For details, please see page 39 of Pacific Ecologist. It is well known also that GM agriculture will increase inequity and dependence and threaten food security in third world countries via patenting of GM crops, terminator genes, requiring farmers to buy seeds each year, and the need for increased pesticides via pesticide resistant crops, as well as threats to food security via GM hasards - see below.)


Additionally, it is to third world countries, and African countries in particular, that we owe thanks for their efforts in initiating and encouraging others to ratify this protocol, which allows countries to protect their biodiversity and food security from the under-researched, under-regulated application of GM agriculture. Third world countries and the EU want to protect their countries biodiversity and food security from the dangers of GMOs.


B.  Why are African countries and the EU interested in protecting their biodiversity from GMO hazards via the protocol but New Zealand is not?  It is ironic and dismaying that New Zealand is not energetically supporting this initiative for environmental protection of our own and the world’s declining biodiversity. 


A major architect of the protocol is Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, plant biologist and Director-General of the Environmental Protection Authority, Ethiopia . On Sept 4 Dr Egzhiabher said in response to US opposition to the Protocol: ”Developing world agriculture systems are adapted to their geography, economy and culture. GM farming systems that require capital and chemicals threaten our agriculture and food security. Ethiopia is strongly against the hasty introduction of GM crops. As a centre of origin and diversity of crops, we recognise the assets that come from biologically diverse, locally adapted, small-scale agriculture. This is why African nations have fought so hard for the Biosafety Protocol, which can provide a legal basis on which to protect our own food sovereignty. We resent the way the stereotyped image of the hungry in developing countries, has been used to force a style of agriculture that will only exacerbate problems of hunger and poverty.


US/NZ oppose Cartagena Protocol

Threaten biodiversity & food security of all countries  

Currently the USA , the main creator and promoter of GE crops has bitterly opposed any proper regulation of its revolutionary GE food and crops, against true scientific and precautionary and processes. Before countries had approved GE food or seeds their food supply was polluted with GE food & seed - through US policies of non-segregation - causing biosecurity alerts in NZ and worldwide.  Carrying on in this reckless way the US is challenging the EU in the WTO over its regulatory system for GMOs - allowed under the protocol.

C.      Unfortunately, New Zealand is supporting the USA in its challenge, thus undermining the biosafety protocol, our own biodiversity protection and the world’s.  Here is what Dr Egziabher, said about the US challenge on Sept 4:

United States ' challenge to the European Union in the WTO courts over Genetically Modified Organisms primarily presents a threat to African and developing countries' food sovereignty and the Biosafety Protocol. We in African countries, who have fought long and hard for the agreement and ratification of the Biosafety Protocol, feel US actions are intended to send a strong, aggressive message to us: that should we choose to implement the Protocol and reject the import of GM foods, we may also face the possibility of a WTO challenge. We cannot help but perceive that US actions are a pre-emptive strike on the Biosafety Protocol and developing country interests.

The Protocol, [now in force]… coincides with the WTO's 5th Ministerial Meeting in
Cancun , Mexico . At Cancun , the US / EU GM debate is expected to be high on the agenda. Part of the US argument for forcing the EU to accept GM without any kind of labelling restrictions, is that the EU rejection creates hunger in the developing world. Supposedly, we would willingly grow GM crops if we weren't afraid of losing our lucrative European markets.

But this premise is untrue. The only African country to support the WTO challenge was
Egypt , who soon retracted support on the grounds of consumer and environmental concerns. Developing countries, and African countries in particular, do not want to grow GM crops uncritically, without the due process of their regulatory systems approving them.

D.     They will not have their crops contaminated by GM crops, for many reasons other than market access to Europe . The one important consideration is safety to human health, domestic animals and the environment. This can only be assured, as provided by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, only through informed risk assessments and decisions based on the Precautionary Principle.

Pollution via cross pollination
Secondly, we reject the patenting of living things, as has been made clear by our negotiations in the WTO.

E.  Otherwise, Article 34 of TRIPs would, in combination with the natural processes of cross-pollination, not only contaminate our crops, but also turn our farmers into patent infringers. This would remove control of food production into the hands of multinational corporations, thereby wresting away food sovereignty into the hands of these companies. Besides paying royalties, we would lose food sovereignty.”


NZ flouts international biodiversity & human rights conventions

F.  So, in supporting the US in its challenge in the WTO against GMO regulations in the EU, New Zealand is not only acting against the protection of our own and the world’s biodiversity and biosecurity - it is also acting against human rights protocols on protection of people’s and countries food security. Worse still, NZ is acting against the food security interests of the poorest countries and the poorest people in the world. This is insupportable.


Non-ratification exposes NZ - allows no protection

G.      We are also concerned that through not ratifying the Cartagena Protocol, New Zealand will be exposed and unable to protect itself from continued infringements of its biosecurity through illegal import of GMOs, in seed consignments, while other countries will be able to protect themselves, and reject GMOs.  It could be that New Zealand through not ratifying the Protocol, will become a dumping ground for the GE crops and food from the USA , when so many other countries refuse them.  More and more countries are rejecting GE crops e.g. the EU, has stringent regulations;  a recent UK study, shows serious problems for biodiversity with GM corps;  and India this year has rejected two crops for commercialisation, after the big failure of GE crops in previous months;  - please see article pages 50-55 of enclosed issue of Pacific Ecologist; Japan is rejecting GE wheat and other GE crops. 


Australian states have powers to reject GMOs But NZ regions exposed

H.  WE note that though the Australian government has recently granted a license for unconditional release of GE canola, the eight state and territory governments have powers and are interested in establishing local and state-wide GE-Free zones - please see pages 21-23 of Pacific Ecologist issue 6 enclosed. New Zealand regions do not have this potential line of defence for the NZ environment, which makes it all the more important for NZ to ratify the Cartagena Protocol.


One year’s GM research the beginning only

I.  Why is the government now allowing releases of GMOs into the environment, when only 1 year’s research has been done on the impact of GMOs in NZ? Please see, pages 29-31 of the enclosed issue of Pacific Ecologist for an article by Drs Stephanie Watson and Philip Carter on this matter. One year’s research is just the beginning of estimating potential GMO problems. It provides no assurance on the safety of allowing releases of GMOs in the open environment.  We should have learnt the lesson on unintended problems associated with releases of exotic plants and animals into NZ (which have caused havoc)  - and be very cautions with GMOs, since their impacts are likely to be even more far reaching, given the potentials of horizontal gene transfer to a wide variety of soil organisms and also to such essential creatures as bees, butterflies, earthworms, ladybirds, birds etc. There is also the fact that GMOs have been shown to be detrimental to monarch and blacktail caterpillars in the wild - so there are also concrete reasons NOT to allow GMO releases. - see below.


India rejects GM crops

J.   Also, India has this year rejected two GE crops for commercial release because of the large-scale failure of GE crops in India the previous months - see pages 50-55 of Pacific Ecologist, enclosed.


Some GE agriculture biodiversity dangers

Dr Egzhiabher has pointed out in a fully referenced article in the enclosed issue of Pacific Ecologist the following risks:

Risks to human health posed by GE maize
“A gene taken from the bacterium, Bacillus thuringensis, made into a construct with a promoter, a terminator and a vector, has been introduced into Bt maize. A gene that gives the maize plant resistance to a particular herbicide, glyphosate, named Roundup Ready by Monsanto, has been introduced into HT maize, again together with a promoter, a terminator and a vector.

“The GE maize that may come to
Africa is likely to be Bt or HT. But we cannot be certain. Given the uncertainly of which transgenic maize variety or varieties may be given to Ethiopia as aid food; and uncertainty about the herbicide to which the GE maize has resistance, if any; and what are the promoters, terminators and vectors; it is not possible to guess with any accuracy what the health hazards would be. Even if and when these unknown variables are identified, there would still be much uncertainty because of the impossibility of predicting how all these introduced genes and the parental genes interact.

“We can however, be sure that we need not fear toxicity since the maize varieties are presumably those being used as human food in the USA, and any such toxicity would already have been detected. However, there are also genetically engineered maize varieties in the United States meant only for animal feed, e.g. the Starlink maize. In September 2000, food made from maize in the United States was found contaminated with Starlink. It was destroyed. But, can we be certain that the maize that may be sent to us, is free from contamination by Starlink or any other variety not cleared for human food?

Because of the use of Substantial Equivalence in certifying GE crops safe for human consumption, such possibly long-term effects as build-up of allergenicity, carcinogeny, terratogeny etc. have been ignored. However small, therefore, there are risks in giving GE food to starving people which could be serious. A study showing the prevalence of unexplained alimentary canal complications between Sweden and the United States has shown that in Sweden, where GE food is not allowed, there has been no increase but that in the United States, where GE food is eaten, there has been a several fold increase.

“In the
United States , GE maize constitutes only a small portion of the diet. If GE maize were given to starving people, it would constitute the whole of their diet. It is likely, therefore, that such complications would be more devastating among victims of famine. When eaten in large quantities, it is possible that human reproduction will be reduced as has been reproduction among pigs. 1

Risks to Ethiopian agriculture [and all agriculture, we add ]
K.  “Maize is wind pollinated. Therefore, GE maize will easily have its pollen reaching non-GE maize. Reports of such contamination are many. If, in the future, it is found that any of the genes in the GE maize cause problems, it would be impossible to bring back the original non-contaminated maize.
2 Maize is the most important food crop in most of Sub-saharan Africa. Such contamination would, therefore, be a major set-back to Africa . Africa would then be barred from exporting maize to Europe and to developing countries in other continents. The current size of Zambian maize export to Europe is worth US $ 400,000,000.

Risks to animals -
Domestic animals refuse to eat the stems and leaves of Bt maize,3 and pigs, if made to eat Bt

M.    maize, have their reproductive capacity greatly reduced.1 Therefore, even if hunger forces domestic animals to eat Bt maize residues, they will not be able to reproduce effectively. Domestic animals would thus either have their feed reduced, or their reproduction reduced. African agriculture, and particularly Ethiopian and Eritrean agriculture, is based on mixed animal rearing and crop production. The introduction of Bt maize would seriously disrupt it.

“The introduction of GE maize will not increase yields. Various studies have shown that GE crops usually have yield lower than their respective non-GE equivalents.

Risks to the African environment? - [and all environments - we add ]
Maize has no closely related species in Africa Therefore, the risk of the transgenes going into wild species through cross- pollination is insignificant. Neither is it likely that maize in Africa will become a weed in the natural vegetation.

N.      However, Bt maize is known to kill butterflies and thus presumably also moths.4Butterflies and moths are important pollinators of crops (e.g. pulses) and wild plants. The spread of Bt maize would thus be not only disruptive of the environment, it would also be economically damaging.

Possible problems related to patenting
The genes or parts of genes (promoters, terminators, whole genes) and vectors introduced during genetic engineering as constructs are all patented. When they contaminate the non-genetically engineered varieties, therefore, they turn them into patented varieties. Article 34 of the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights of the World Trade Organisation considers anybody found with a patented object in his possession to be an infringer of the patent, a criminal. Therefore, our peasant farmers would not only lose their own non-genetically modified varieties of maize, they would also become patent infringers and thus also criminals.

“A farmer from Canada, who maintains that his field of rapeseed was contaminated by cross-pollination from another field of GE rapeseed, was found guilty and ordered to pay damages.

Ethiopia is not a member of the World Trade Organization and its peasant farmers could not be turned criminal just because they have their own varieties contaminated. But they would become criminal when Ethiopia joins the World Trade Organisation. They would be forced to pay fines and, in the future, be forced to pay royalties, every maize-planting season. Most countries in Africa are members of the World Trade Organisation; and their farmers would be criminals immediately.”



O.    Again, why is the New Zealand government, not protecting its own biodiversity and the world’s, as the EU and third world countries are, by ratifying the Cartagena protocol? NZ is currently exposed through not ratifying. We request the Ministry urgently to counsel the government to ratify the Cartagena Protocol to the Convention on Biodiversity, for the protection of New Zealand and the world’s biodiversity and to protect our trade interests. To risk all for an uncontained experiment with the whole of life - especially at a time of mass extinctions - is unsupportable and inexplicable. 


P.      It is also repugnant that New Zealand is acting against the Cartagena Protocol and interests of other countries efforts to protect their own biodiversity from GMO contamination by supporting the US challenge in the WTO against EU regulations on GM.  Many of the countries ratifying the Cartagena Protocol, are third world countries that are world centres of biodiversity and origin of crops. 


Q.    Thus NZ, in opposing the Protocol, is threatening the world’s biodiversity in support of GMOs. What is the explanation for this ?  We must at least allow other countries to protect their food security and vital biodiversity interests, otherwise NZ is also infringing basic human rights to food security. For biosecurity and biodiversity now and in the future clearly NZ must ratify.


R.     Economic studies by Professor Caroline Saunders of Lincoln University in New Zealand show  release of GM crops in New Zealand will harm NZ’s interests in key markets. Even the US Dept of Agriculture study of 2002 found it could find no advantage to US farmers in growing GE crops -see page 24/25 of enclosed Pacific Ecologist.  Clearly the US has sown for itself a bitter harvest with GM agriculture. New Zealand would do well not to get drawn in and to make this clear by ratifying the Cartagena Protocol.



Yours sincerely



Kay Weir

Editor Pacific Ecologist

Executive member,

Pacific Institute of Resource Management

PO Box 12125


Phone 9394553 -


1.   Soil Association, 2002, p 36, Seeds of doubt: North American farmers’ experiences of GM crops, Soil Association: Bristol , UK .                                         

2. Ibid pp. 25-34.

3.  Ibid p.12, More detailed information is found in Benbrook, CM 2001. When does it Pay to plant Bt Corn? Farm-level Economic Impacts of Bt corn, 1996-2001. Benbrook Consulting serivces, Idaho . This document can be found at

4. National Research Council, Op cit p. 71-76 gives details on effects of Bt maize on monarch butterflies. The original report was made by Losey, JE, LS Raynor and ME Carter 1999, Transgenic pollen harms monarch butterflies, Nature, no 399, p. 214. 

Pacific Ecologist