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The Green Party will not support a National government. 

The question has been raised in an interview with Greens co-leader James Shaw by Jack Tame on Q+A TV1.

A blue-green ‘Teal’ deal is also the subject of Mathew Hooton’s NZ Herald comment piece for Election 2023  “National plus the Greens? A teal deal is a real possibility”.

But it is not a real possibility at all.

One obvious reason why not, is the difference in their policies. 

But there is a more fundamental reason. The difference is in the four pillars that underpin the Green Party: ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy, and nonviolence.

If Mathew Hooton’s suggestion of a National-Green deal was to come true it would require a hijack of these principals throughout the Party and its members.

Critics may wrongly argue that there is already a bit of a hijack in terms of the Green’s election campaign focus on social issues rather than environmental ones. But that criticism fails to see the connection between social justice as a prerequisite for effectively tackling environmental issues. 

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The Green Party sees the connections between things that the National Party does not. 

 

National Versus Green Biotechnology Policies

The policy debate is not about the ethical medical uses of GE. Green Party policy recognises the benefits of science and allows for ethical biotechnology in medicine and research.

The bigger issue is promoting commercial release of GMOs in the environment and the plan to exempt new products of Gene Editing from regulation. When it comes to food and to protecting complex natural environments, safe enough is not good enough.

The Green Party has a long history of fighting for the consumer right to know and for regulation and labelling of GE food. Today it follows in the footsteps of Jeanette Fitzsimons and her work to ensure regulation of GE and support for organic agriculture. 

Sue Kedgley helped establish the Green Party as the public’s voice for food safety, championing labelling of GE products and people’s right to choose. These policies still have broad public support. It is these protections that National wants to roll back.

 

National’s push for biotechnology will take away the Consumer Right to Chose. 

The National Party’s published proposal for biotechnology says:

Will consumers know if they are eating genetically modified food?
Yes. National supports food labelling so consumers know what they are eating 

This is not the case. 

By exempting Gene Edited products from testing, tracing and labelling National’s policy would remove the right of people to choose. The right to choose is part of the social license for the biotechnology industry to operate. 

Wherever people sit on the range of views about Gene Editing, surveys show 80% of people support the right to chose. To ensure that choice we need tracing and labelling of Gene Edited food.

This is what the Gene Editing debate in Europe is also about. 

On 7 September the GMO-Free Europe conference took place in Brussels. The conference, hosted by the Green Group in the European Parliament, brought together people and the scientific, food retail, legal, and policymaking sectors to discuss opposition to the European Commission’s proposal to remove regulatory safeguards, traceability and labelling from new GMOs made with so-called “new genomic techniques” (NGTs) such as gene editing.

One revelation at the conference was a scientist’s statement that over 90% of new GM plants would escape safety checks as well as traceability and labelling requirements, if the proposals go ahead.

The implications of the proposed deregulation of Gene Editing were described at the conference as an “Oppenheimer Moment”. 

New Zealand faces the same issues. 

It is a decisive moment for protection of organic and GE-free exports that are a significant market advantage. 

National party leader Christopher Luxon wants to open up to GE biotechnology, but at the cost of removing regulations that are vital for consumer choice and ensuring safety. The National policy is a race to the bottom for deregulation by allowing use of GE products approved in any two OECD countries. Any two out of 38 countries with inconsistent standards for food and environmental safety! The ultimate in giving away control.

Labour Party Leader Chris Hipkins has countered National’s policy with reassurance that Labour acknowledge the value of our GE-free exports and would protect these, even as ‘lab-based’ uses of GE are being reviewed to streamline them for industry. 

Green Party leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson have been criticised for not talking more about the Party’s updated GE policy and for not challenging National’s agenda.

James Shaw on NewstalkZB The Country responded to criticism from Federated Farmers that, “the Greens find the GE topic too hot to handle, but discussions on pragmatic and science-based policies should not be held to ransom by merely trying to keep a vocal section of your political party’s membership happy.” 

Mmm. ‘A vocal section’ that is citing the Party’s policy and also up-to-date science just as EU ministers of the Environment are doing. 

A vocal section that also align with the vast majority of people (in a UK survey – 80% of the public) who support the right to choose, with continued regulation and labelling of Gene Edited foods. 

Federated Farmers should already know that it is market sentiment and lack of consumer demand that has slowed GE food, not regulation. Their repeated claims that our strict regulation of GE means New Zealand is ‘missing out’ on fighting climate change, are misplaced. 

Everyone should know by now that the GE ryegrass trials have been much-delayed and have failed to deliver against better existing alternatives.

James Shaw says “In the Hawke’s Bay, you’ve got a strong move for a pure, organic brand as they think that will be of higher value, and they are concerned that moves towards gene editing in that area would lower the value of food produced in the area.” 

He points to other options to help reduce emissions, and echoes Labour’s recognition of the commercial value of GE-free exports. We already have the science to manage stock and reduce methane with mixed forage. We can take real action on climate change with regenerative organic agriculture and a just transition. 

The Green’s touchstone of Ecological Wisdom means learning lessons from the past. Thanks to independent public-interest science we now understand the harm caused by chemical contamination in the environment and the need to prevent similar harm from Gene Editing and other technologies.

The National Party policy cites the Chief Science Advisors, The Royal Society and industry experts saying the science is settled and GE is safe. But safe where? Used how? 

And how has GE regulation helped ensure this safety?

It is the same argument made by industry in Europe for EU Commission plans to exempt New Genomic Techniques from regulation.

On the other hand European Environment Ministers are opposing deregulation. They support the Precautionary Principle and keeping regulation of New Genomic Techniques. The Green Party’s policy is aligned with the EU Environment Ministers and justifiably so.

The consequences of this lack of oversight could be extremely serious. At the EU conference Dr Engelhard pointed out that new GM plants developed using RNAi gene silencing technology – for example, to kill insect pests – could also silence the genes of non-target organisms that eat them, with lethal consequences.

In the election debates the Green Party and Labour are both voicing a precautionary approach to GE, and recognise the market advantage for GE-Free exports. But only the Greens have broad vision across multiple portfolios, and a history of fighting for food safety and the consumer right to chose.

The Green Party policy protects the right to produce food, such as organic and Hua Parakore, without risk of GE contamination, including maintaining zero tolerance for GE seed in imports. The policy supports the marketing of Aotearoa New Zealand and its food, fibre and agricultural products as GE-free and recognises the economic advantage this brings. 

Green Party policy on biotechnology is founded in Ecological Wisdom and supports the Precautionary Principle. It is not possible to hijack core values held so deeply. By contrast, National’s policies do not voice respect for Papatūānuku or protection of the environment that are fundamental to Green values. 

Sorry Mr Hooton, the idea of a Teal deal is not real.

 

Jon Carapiet: Born in Ghana and educated at Cambridge and Auckland Universities, Jon is a consumer researcher and advocate, photographer and writer. Jon started talking about valuing and protecting Brand New Zealand in the early 2000’s and is spokesman for GE-Free NZ (in food and environment). Twitter  jon@brandnewzealand


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