** Conflict of interest for new EPA head
The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency has been an open advocate of genetic engineering, and therefore has a conflict of interest when it comes to looking after the environment, says the Soil & Health Association.
Dr Allan Freeth starts his role as chief executive of the EPA in September. While managing director of Wrightson Group, Dr Freeth was described as an outspoken advocate of GE, and facilitated research into GE pasture species. During his time at Wrightson’s, the company bought Genesis, which has been involved in growing GE trees with ArborGen in the USA and South America.
“We are concerned that Dr Freeth’s appointment is part of a push for genetic engineering on several fronts in New Zealand,” says Marion Thomson, co-chair of Soil & Health. “The EPA is tasked with protecting the environment, and needs to apply the precautionary principle when there is any doubt – as is the case with GE. It is essential for transparent process that Dr Freeth’s views do not influence EPA decision-making.”
Dr Freeth’s appointment to the EPA comes at a time when the Ministry for Primary Industries is consulting on a National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry. If adopted with the current wording, the proposed standard would remove the right of local communities to determine whether GE trees could be released in their area – making the EPA the sole arbiter of decisions about GE trees in New Zealand.
This follows a ruling by Principal Environment Court Judge Newhook that there is jurisdiction under the Resource Management Act for regional councils to make provision for GE organisms through regional policy statements and plans. The ruling came as a result of a court case brought by Federated Farmers. Federated Farmers, which is now headed by another GE proponent, Dr William Rolleston, is appealing the decision in the High Court.
“Millions of taxpayer dollars have already been spent on GE field trials, including GE trees, with no positive results to date,” says Thomson. “Rather than go down the GE track, New Zealand has a great opportunity to maintain and strengthen our point of difference. We need to live up to our clean, green image with high-value, environmentally sustainable, GE-free organic farming and forestry. This is what markets around the world are crying out for.”
Soil & Health urges New Zealanders to have their say on the proposed forestry standard; submissions are due on 11 August.* The Association is proud that New Zealand has so far had no commercial releases of GE organisms, and that democracy and the public’s desire for a GE-free New Zealand have prevailed.
*Proposed National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry – submissions due 11 August 2015: