Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September Talk – Organics NZ

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be a WWOOFer (Willing Worker on Organic Farms), come along to our September talk and hear all about Philippa Jamieson’s volunteering adventures. As author of ‘The Wild Green Yonder’ and editor of Organic NZ, Philippa has a unique view of where the organic movement is at in New Zealand.

Expect to meet some new faces, as this month’s talk is a joint meeting of the Good Gardeners and Canterbury Soil and Health. We look forward to seeing you all there. Non-members are also welcome.

When: 7.30pm on Monday 21 September
Where: The Oxford Terrace Baptist Church cnr Oxford Tce and Madras St
Cost: $2.00 per person (to cover hall hire)

Monday, September 7, 2009

GE Discussion - Thursday 6 August

Genetic engineering is no longer the hot topic it once was, and without the vigilant attention of people like Steffan Browning (Soil and Health Spokesperson) and Clare Bleakley (GE free NZ) it’s likely that we never would have known about the accidental release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into Canterbury. Local Soil and Health members were lucky to get the full story from Steffan Browning when he recently gave a talk on busting the GE brassica field trial at Lincoln. Elvira Dommisse, a former GE scientist, and Soil and Health National Council member, also gave a quick presentation on the situation of GE crops worldwide and answered people’s technical questions.

GE Brassica Field Trials
Although there was much public resistance to GE field trials, with 948 submissions opposing the GE brassica field trial alone, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) granted Crop & Food (now Plant & Food Research) permission to conduct field trials in May 2007.

Risk of Genetic Pollution
Many of those who opposed the trials were concerned that experiments in the field would lead to the uncontrolled release of GMOs into the surrounding environment. In an attempt to allay their concerns ERMA imposed the following conditions:

1. Prevention of flowering
To prevent pollen from escaping from GE brassicas to non-GE brassicas, the brassica plants used in the trial were not allowed to go to flower. All plants in the test site were to be monitored to detect onset of bolting (early flowering), and any bolting plants were to be removed and taken to a containment facility.

2. Destruction of all genetically modified plant material
To prevent the uncontrolled release of GMOs, all GE brassicas were to be killed by composting— which does not completely destroy the GE DNA— or autoclaving (heated to 121C by pressurised steam).

Breach of conditions
Despite the assurances from scientists that there was no risk of GMOs escaping into the environment, GE brassicas were found to be flowering by Steffan Browning in December last year. Rather than destroying the GE plants at the conclusion of the trial, Dr Mary Christey and her assistants had simply cut the brassica plants off at the base, leaving the stalks and roots in the ground. The stalks subsequently re-sprouted and initiated flowers, and the discovery of a seed capsule indicated that GE pollen had been released. Further investigations of the scientist's logbooks showed that this was not the first time GE brassica plants had been allowed to flower. Photographs taken during the trial clearly showed bolting GE broccoli and GE cauliflower plants.

Scion GE Tree Field Trials
Similar breaches of conditions also occurred in relation to the Scion GE tree trial in 2007-2008. While visiting the trial site Steffan discovered the following: GE tree seedlings growing in pots had been allowed to initiate pollen. Trees in the field that were supposed to be topped to 2m, to allow scientists to monitor for pollen bearing cones, had been allowed to grow to over 3m. Prunings from GE trees were left to rot in the field, instead of being autoclaved, and security fences that were supposed to keep out browsing animals, had been tunnelled under by rabbits.

It is clear from both field trials that even when strict conditions are imposed scientists are unable to safely contain GMOs. In light of the breaches of conditions Soil and Health and GE Free NZ called for an immediate halt to all GE field trials.

GE Issues World Wide
Unfortunately there wasn't enough time for Elvira to cover GE issues in any real depth. If you would like a copy of a talk Elvira recently gave to the WEA on GE Issues please send an email to organicschch@gmail.com Some of the main issues are summarised below, with links to more information.

Monsanto continues to aggressively enforce its patent rights, with dire consequences for many farmers. The most infamous case being the story of Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian canola farmer who was sued by Monsanto when self-sown 'Round Up Ready' canola plants were found on his property.

Many of Monsanto's GE cotton crops failed in India, causing large numbers of farmers to go bankrupt. Many of these farmers went on to commit suicide.

To make it easy to identify GE crops scientists introduce use antibiotic-resistant markers. These antibiotic resistant genes can be taken up by stomach bacteria when GE crops or foodstuffs containing GE DNA are eaten. The antibiotic-resistance DNA can then be transferred to disease-causing bacteria making them resistant to antibiotics.

Film – Future of Food
The 'Future of Food' provides people with a good overview of the issues surrounding genetically modified food, and is available from Alice in Videoland. The film's trailer can be watched on Youtube.

What You Can Do
With climate change constantly in the spotlight it's easy to forget other important issues such as GE. As concerned consumers we must remember to keep the pressure on. One of the only things holding the GE industry back is consumer resistance. Ring up your local supermarket and remind them that GE-free matters to you. Supermarkets know that a call from one person represents 100 other individuals who feel the same way. For a list of GE free foods, check out the Greenpeace true-food guide.