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Activists fear for New Zealand's reputation for food safety

By Ankush Chibber , 08-Nov-2011
Last updated the 08-Nov-2011 at 18:03 GMT

Activist groups in New Zealand have said that if the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is signed, the country would compromise its reputation for food safety and export-quality produce.

The TPPA is a free trade agreement that includes nations on both sides of the Pacific including Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, United States, Australia, Peru, and Vietnam.

According to GE-Free NZ, an activist group at the forefront of the campaign against the agreement, the country’s November elections could potentially be interpreted as providing a mandate for signing up to the TPPA.

Claire Bleakley, a spokesperson for GE-Free NZ, said in a statement that the TPPA contain secret agreements, which could undermine NZ's bio-security and food safety standards.

The statement said that leaked documents have highlighted that US interests would be able to lobby to deny New Zealand producers their clean-green reputation for food safety and purity, not least because they compete against US-produced genetically engineered (GE) and chemical-contaminated products.

GE-Free NZ said that one of the negotiation issues of great concern is the potential loss of New Zealand's gold-standard zero tolerance for imported genetically modified seeds.

“New Zealand must not compromise the economic advantage of being world-class and maintaining the gold standard for the least toxic, least contaminated, and most ethical food production system,” said Jon Carapiet, a GE-Free NZ spokesman.

The group also said that any US agricultural Free Trade deal that includes seed would include forced acceptance of contamination in the forage and food seeds, alfalfa and corn, which are most valuable to New Zealand.

Food council chief says concerns are unfounded

Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (NZFGC) told FoodNavigator-Asia that the group is wrong to say that “New Zealand’s reputation and high standards for food safety and export quality produce are at risk” from the agreement.

“Successive governments have always been extremely careful to protect New Zealand’s agricultural sector by overseeing and requiring some of the most rigid and robust biosecurity measures in the world” she said.

Rich reiterated that the protection of our main industries is not something that any mainstream political leader or government official would risk, regardless of the political opportunity or negotiation pressure.

“Many activist groups wanting to whip up a frenzied fear against GE seem to think that all they need to do is to reference the US, big business and Monsanto all in one sentence. It’s not,” she added.

“New Zealanders are increasingly understanding the opportunities and looking at the evidence and successive studies that demonstrate safety and productivity gains,” she said.

Rich said that there is no such thing as a formal “gold-standard zero tolerance” for GE in New Zealand, and while there are very few GE products in New Zealand, but there are some.

“New Zealand has strict regulations around the introduction of GE crops and food products containing GE, particularly relating to labelling, but it’s not a case that we have no GE products at all,” she added.

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