TPP: a gateway to GE?

Beware of ‘geeks’ bearing gifts; the Trans Pacific Partnership could let GE in through the back door.

dwight whitney primary magazineMonsanto vice president Robert Reiter wants New Zealand to ‘get with the program’. The program being letting down the national ‘guard’ in terms of acceptance of GE in food production—a point he made in no uncertain terms at the recent Conference for Agricultural Biotechnology (ABIC 2012) in Rotorua.

His message enraged many, including former Crop and Food Research scientist Elvira Dommisse who once worked on the first GE onion research. She wrote to the New Zealand Herald: “To date no biotech corporation has produced a GE crop that is higher yielding, more nutritious, scientifically proven to be safe as a food, and better performing.”

Science is an integral part of New Zealand’s agribusiness juggernaut so some form of open-mindedness has to come into the fray. The question worth asking, nevertheless, is having done so well to date without it, is there really any need to introduce GE to the national food creation mix?

In commenting on the plan for an agricultural way forward for India—based more on ecological farming and a holistic paradigm in keeping with the culture—one scientist has wiped GE off the menu.

Professor Jack Heinemann of Canterbury University’s School of Biological Sciences pointed out the failure of GM crops to address food insecurity. "Only two countries in the world, both in South America, grow GM on more than 40 per cent of their agricultural land and both are suffering from increased food insecurity. Most of their poor neighbours that have not adopted GE have improving food security statistics."

So being leaders, do we necessarily have to be followers? I say no, but under the beguiling notion of trade liberalisation we may have no choice. The Trans Pacific Partnership may just be the way that foreign interests can corral a Trojan horse in New Zealand’s clean and pleasant lands. The fact the US State Department had such a strong presence at the conference says that the corporatisation and politics of food has now become very much a part of national security and interest.

If New Zealand accepts TPP, it could be forced to also accept GE crops and the like, since Council established rules would take precedence over national law and Parliamentary determinations. Of the 26 chapters of the TPP, only two have to do with trade. The others empower global corporations with extraterritorial privileges.

Soil & Health Association spokesperson Debbie Swanwick has spotted the potential ‘back door’ move: “What they've done is come in through the back door and said we'll go and try and sell it those luddites in New Zealand."

The move from agribusiness leader to Luddite could ruin one of the truly globally competitive opportunities this country enjoys.

Dwight Whitney is a writer, brand advisor, sport horse breeder and former editor of Primary. Click here to subscribe.