David Risstrom - Greens Melbourne City Councillor 1999-2004
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ACHIEVEMENT: A 5-year moratorium on the sale or provision of GE food in school canteens, meals on wheels and hospitals, and public discussion on this issue is initiated by the City of Melbourne.

TARGET DATE: December 2003 PROGRESS: None to date.

DESCRIPTION: Genetic engineering is very controversial, especially when food is concerned. I propose a 5-year moratorium on the sale or provision of GE food in school canteens, meals on wheels and hospitals. An argument tree will be placed in the City Square to allow full public discussion of this complex issue. All will be welcome to contribute including the public, scientists, farmers, cooks …. in fact, anyone who eats food.

Attempts by me to oppose Council support of genetic engineering and biotech proposals have been outvoted on each occasion.

FURTHER INFORMATION: The Australian Greens (Victoria) – Genetic Engineering Policy is detailed below:


What is Genetic Engineering
A gene is a segment of a cell’s DNA. DNA is the 'blueprint' of life - codes that determine an organism's specific traits, including physical appearance, growth, functioning etc. Genetic Engineering (GE) is a new technology that allows scientists to exchange DNA sequences and to remove DNA sequences between and within species in a way that traditional breeding can not. GE is often used to insert foreign DNA from widely differing species - plants, animals, viruses, bacteria and humans - into the genome of other unrelated species - bypassing the normal biological mechanisms that divide species and limit natural breeding to closely related organisms. In contrast, GE is used to change an organism’s functioning for commercial and industrial purposes, using viruses and bacteria to insert DNA for a profitable trait. For example, genes for herbicide tolerance and insect toxin production, from bacteria and other plants have been engineered into crops.

Genetic Engineering in Australia
Two varieties each of cotton and carnation were commercialised under voluntary guidelines that operated for fifteen years until the Gene Technology Act came into force on 21 June 2001. Field trials of various grains and other crops, as well as GE canola seed production for the Canadian market, has taken place at over six hundred secret locations around Australia. Under the Act the locations will now be published (though six organisations have applied for exemptions, they account for 90% of the applications), enabling neighbours to keep an eye on whether the sites are managed in compliance with licence conditions. Failure to comply carries large fines and the Gene Technology Regulator, appointed under the Act, has the power to declare a licence-holder unfit to be licensed.

Twenty varieties of six imported GE foods: soy, corn, canola, cotton, potatoes and sugar beet, were provisionally approved by the Australia NZ Food Authority (ANZFA) for inclusion in the Australian food supply on May 6, 1999. ANZFA has now assessed most of these foods and most approvals were confirmed. The risks of gene technology and its products to public health and safety include allergenicity, toxicity, mutagenicity and carcinogenicity. The impact of genetic engineering on biodiversity and the environment is poorly understood and pollen and seed contamination is inevitable. The Gene Technology Act allows the regulator to consult Community and Ethics Committees but direct advice on licence applications will be given only by the Technical Advisory Committee. Government policy and decision-making on GE has lacked transparency.

Environmental risks of GEOs
The general release of GEOs into the environment for commercial purposes poses significant risks of irreversible genetic contamination of natural and agricultural gene pools. Open pollinated GEOs may outcross with related crops or wild relatives, transferring engineered traits. Horizontal gene transfer between unrelated organisms may also pose a serious risk, as studies have already documented the transfer of engineered DNA across kingdom boundaries. The impacts of GEOs on our environment is unpredictable and, in the absence of long-term studies, poorly understood. It is likely that genetic drift between GEOs and natural ecosystems could ultimately contaminate plants and animals, with adverse impacts on the functioning of natural systems, the contamination of organic and biodynamic and other non-GE crops, and loss of biodiversity.

The transfer of genetic material from herbicide-tolerant crops can create herbicide-resistant weeds. Increased chemical usage associated with such crops can lead to elevated chemical residues in our food, soils and waterways.

GE crops engineered to produce their own insect toxins (such as Bt cotton) may harm beneficial insects and soil biota. The widespread use of such insecticide-producing crops may also lead to resistance within pest populations that will negate the use of ‘natural’ Bt by organic farmers which has been sustainable and environmentally friendly for over forty years.

Health risks
No independent pre-market human or animal tests were conducted on the use of GE in food production to determine safety. Nor is there good understanding of long term risks to human and animal health. GE foods are currently approved by ANZFA (Australian New Zealand Food Authority) for sale if they were already on the market lawfully overseas, were approved by an overseas regulatory agency and there was no clear evidence of harm. These criteria do not guarantee that such foods are safe for human consumption. ANZFA assesses data provided by the GE company applying to market the GE product.

Australian GE food safety assessments are based on the concept of substantial equivalence, a concept developed in 1993 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which assumes a GE food is safe if it is found to be similar to a conventional food when they are compared on a limited number of chemical analyses. This assumption ignores possible metabolic disturbances in GEOs that may unpredictably generate harmful substances. Slow acting harmful substances may be very difficult to detect, creating considerable risk if the superficial tests used to establish substantial equivalence are relied on alone. Allergic reactions may result where genes from allergenic foods such as nuts or fish are incorporated into non-allergenic foods. Known allergens will be labelled but there is no mechanism for identifying whether or not food contains GE ingredients with new allergic properties.

The use of viral and bacterial promoter genes in the process of creating GEOs creates risks that new and increasingly virulent pathogens may develop. The potential exists for horizontal transfer of the genes to pathogens through natural systems. Antibiotic resistance marker genes are also used in GEO production, which could also result in increased antibiotic resistance if the genes (present in every cell of the transformed GEO) transfer into pathogens. The risk to human health from antibiotic resistance developing in microbes through antibiotic misuse is one of the major public health threats of the 21st century and GE may add to it.

Patenting living organisms and genes
The patenting of living organisms and their genes is an unprecedented revolution in human values as it turns life itself into a commodity. Patents on life are unethical because living organisms are not inventions. GEOs which can be patented and therefore monopoly-owned may also cause serious harm to public health, the environment and agriculture. For example, they may contaminate non-GE plants via wind and insect-borne pollen dispersal, creating less manageable weeds and making conventional food products unsaleable. Patents on living organisms and their genes are recognised as one of the key drivers of GE and corporate globalisation and The Greens will develop rigorous policy to control patenting.

Benefits of GE-free agriculture
The European and Asian food markets have reacted strongly against GEOs in the food supply. To optimise Australia's access to international markets, we must produce foods that meet international expectations and are compatible with demonstrated customer preferences. This country’s farmers stand to lose existing price premiums and many export markets if they cannot guarantee customers that we have uncontaminated environments.

Experience in the US, Canada & Argentina, where GEOs have been used on a large scale, show variable performance. Crop yields have been unreliable (often 6-10% less than conventional counterparts), input and royalty costs are high and the use of GEOs has delivered no clear economic gains to farmers. Many farmers planting GEOs have suffered a substantial and costly consumer backlash resulting in large market losses. Conventional farmers in these countries, unable to guarantee the GE-free status of their products, have also suffered a similar customer backlash as buyers opt for GE free products.

Organic and biodynamic agriculture is growing at 30% a year, with domestic and export demand booming, as the world seeks non-GE foods. GE poses an unacceptable threat of contamination to our organic and biodynamic agriculture systems.

In particular organic and biodynamic farmers are liable to lose certification and the right to call the product organic and biodynamic if they suffer any detectable level of contamination. At least half of the $80 million pa of Federal taxpayer funds being spent on GE research and development should be reallocated to the urgent development of sustainable farming options which are now starved of government backing.

Social responsibility and global GE expansion
The top five GE companies control almost 100% of the market in GE seeds, 60% of the global pesticide market and 23% of the commercial seed market. Such GE industry cartels, using broad patents and contracts with farmers, grain handlers, processors and retailers, gain strong control of the whole food supply - laboratory to dinner plate. Centralised monopoly control of the genetic blueprints of life through genetic intellectual property ownership gives too much power to industry and is not in the public interest.

Communities which now enjoy some degree of agricultural self-sufficiency and independence through seed saving will be greatly disadvantaged by the expansion of expensive patented GEOs on which they must pay a royalty and cannot save seed without being sued. GE companies are continuing to develop sterile seeds which will not germinate if saved for future planting. This is unacceptable as the food supply of 1.5 billion people globally relies on saved seed. An OECD study concluded that the world’s population can be fed 1.5 times over with current food supplies. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s report, Agriculture: Towards 2015/30 Technical Interim Report (April 2000), found that global food production will keep pace with population and that future food shortages will be due to inequitable distribution rather than production constraints.

Growing expensive, patented GEOs in countries with food shortages will increase poverty by intensifying chemical-dependent agriculture and increasing dependence on foreign technology. Patented GEOs, sold under licence with aggressive marketing, would jeopardise diverse locally developed plant and animal varieties. It is objectionable that GE foods which are largely unsaleable are being dumped on foreign aid programs sold cheaply as animal feed. The US government is unfairly subsidising the North American GE industry, to ensure it stays in business.

The Precautionary Principle and Gene Technology.

GEOs are not needed to feed the growing human population.

Allowing GEO releases now would contravene the precautionary principle (enshrined in the Gene Technology Act 2000, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Biosafety Protocol and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act). The precautionary principle, was defined in the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment, signed by the Heads of all Australian Governments in May 1992.

Section 3.5.1: says: ‘Where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation. In the application of the precautionary principle, public and private decisions should be guided by:
(i) careful evaluation to avoid, wherever practicable, serious or irreversible damage to the environment; and
(ii) an assessment of the risk-weighted consequences of various options. Under the principle the ‘onus of proof’ regarding impacts has shifted to those actions that might cause change.’

There are many unresolved risks in genetic engineering, evidenced by extensive debates among scientists and in the community. Therefore, precaution demands that we delay releasing GEOs. A $3 million three-year ecological study of GEOs was begun by CSIRO in 2000, to fill the information vacuum over the potentially irreversible impacts on human health and the environment of commercial GEO releases. Though the probability of adverse impacts from the release of GEOs or the consumption of GE foods may be small, their impact may be high and irreversible. Applying the Precautionary Principle in gene technology is therefore essential and it is unsatisfactory that the Gene Technology Act compromises the principle with cost effectiveness considerations.

4.2 Principles
Recognising that the general release of GEOs and the consumption of GE foods have the potential to adversely impact on Australia's ecological environment, economy and public health, the Victorian Greens believe that:

4.2.1 GE poses unacceptable risks to human health and our wider environment;
4.2.2 there is no role for genetic engineering in any kind of agriculture and The Greens support international organic standards that prohibit the use of genetic engineering;

4.2.3 mandatory labelling of all foods produced using gene technology and foodstuffs from animals that have been fed GE feed is necessary so that all food buyers may make an informed choice about whether or not to purchase and eat GE foods;

4.2.4 application of the Precautionary Principle to the release of GEOs justifies a long-term freeze of at least five years, to protect the integrity of Australia's natural and agricultural ecosystems and biodiversity. During the moratorium all foodstuffs produced using gene technology should be withdrawn from sale so that testing protocols can be implemented to establish the long term risk to public health and safety and to the environment for each GEO that is proposed to be released. During the moratorium, independent, expert scientific research into all aspects of the impacts of GEOs should continue to be funded out of the public purse, taking into account the practical experience of those countries which have adopted large scale use of GEOs in the environment and the food supply;

4.2.5 the use of GEOs by some of Australia's primary producers will entrench and compound the many environmental, social and economic problems created by intensive, chemical-dependent agriculture;

4.2.6 measures to encourage the adoption of sustainable agricultural systems, especially organic and biodynamic practices, must be supported by government;

4.2.7 'quick-fix' GE solutions to agricultural and environmental problems, that will likely have unforeseen future negative consequences, should be discouraged by government; and

4.2.8 liability for any damage to the community and the environment should be borne by the proponents who develop and commercialise GE technology. This liability needs to be legislated and not merely left to common law and a compensation fund should be established, paid for by a levy on the sale of GE products to protect claims against the state where private companies cannot pay for damages or their insurers cannot pay.

4.3 Goals and Short Term Targets: The Greens support:

4.3.1 an immediate five-year freeze on the release of any GEOs into the Victorian environment for trial or commercial purposes;

4.3.2 removal of all GEOs from Victorian environments, whether the result of deliberate release or of accidental genetic drift;

4.3.3 removal of all foodstuffs produced using gene technology from sale while the freeze is in place;

4.3.4 through federal co-operation, quarantine of contaminated areas and compensation for anyone who has suffered genetic contamination of non-GE crops or the environment;

4.3.5 The Victorian government to declare the State GE free and prohibit the release of all GEOs, under the Gene Technology Act 2000 (Commonwealth);

4.3.6 an independent agricultural strategy group to evaluate feasibility options for large-scale conversion to sustainable agricultural systems, specifically organic and biodynamic production;

4.3.7 compulsory, clear and honest labelling of all foods containing any ingredient, additive, processing aid, or other constituent produced using gene technology, including foodstuffs (eg, eggs, milk, meat, honey) derived from animals that have been fed GE feed; and

Research: The Greens support:
4.3.8 the immediate decontamination of all GEO release sites and a long term freeze on any further releases, pending the outcome of ecological, economic, public safety and ethical studies; and

4.3.9 Government funding for independent scientific research to investigate the risks, hazards and costs of GEOs to human health, the environment, the economy and society, including: potential outcrossing between GE and non-GE commercial or wild relatives; horizontal gene transfer between unrelated organisms; potential development of new viral and bacterial pathogens and antibiotic resistant pathogens; bioaccumulation of foreign genes within natural systems and the potential for adverse ecological interactions; the impacts on rural communities of lost export markets.

Social responsibility and ethics
The Greens are concerned about the patenting of any living organisms, genes, and other biological materials, as living organisms and the genetic material which mediates their reproduction are not human creations.

Farmers support: The Greens support:
4.3.10 the development and delivery of balanced, quality information to farmers and farmers' representative groups on the environmental, economic and other benefits of a GE-free Victoria;

4.3.11 Victorian government to pressure the Federal government to release locations of GE sites in Victoria thereby enabling farmers access to this information so they can protect their livelihoods;

4.3.12 provide practical information and financial support to farmers converting to organic and biodynamic production, or those exploring the feasibility of conversion from chemical-based, industrial farming systems;

Education: The Greens support:
4.3.13 public funding for a wide variety of organisations, to promote public education and discussion of the environmental, social, ethical, economic and scientific aspects of new industrial gene technologies and their products;

4.3.14 the development and distribution of community information on the fundamental differences between GEOs, conventional agriculture and sustainable options, with emphasis on the risks of GEOs; and

4.3.15 funding for the establishment of ongoing community discussion forums, leading to the development and implementation of action plans for the restoration of Victoria’s degraded rural environments and the transition to sustainable systems.

4.3.16 the provision of courses in Earth Stewardship for farmers; and

4.3.17 education programs that train farmers to assess and monitor the effects of their own farming practices (eg, genetic drift, water pollution, soil loss, etc.) on their own and neighbouring environments.


Cool Green Tip Of The Week -

23 April 2017: Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918 -1956.

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