Most New Zealanders are strongly opposed to the genetic engineering of animals in New Zealand, with farmers as ardently opposed as the rest of the community, a new survey shows.
A Colmar Brunton Omnijet survey of over 1000 people, commissioned by the Soil & Health Association of New Zealand and the national animal advocacy organisation SAFE, found that only 27 per cent of New Zealanders, and just 28 per cent of farmers, support genetic engineering (GE) of animals. However six out of ten farmers (61%) who stated an opinion in the survey said they do not support GE of animals, and almost a third of all farmers surveyed (28%) stated they ‘don’t know.’
The two organisations that commissioned the poll, along with GE Free NZ and the Green Party, mounted nationwide campaigns last month to vehemently oppose four applications submitted by AgResearch to conduct broad-ranging genetic research and the commercialisation of GE animals.
The groups warn the applications threaten New Zealand’s clean green image and could result in potentially catastrophic environmental disasters in addition to animal suffering.
“Twice as many New Zealanders oppose GE than support it,” says Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning. “These AgResearch applications effectively threaten our entire nation by proposing commercial production, and go much further than just small-scale, contained research.”
SAFE campaign director Hans Kriek said today: “The majority of New Zealanders are opposed to GE animals (55%) and almost one in five (18%) want more information about what is being planned, the risks involved, the effect on the animals and who will really benefit. New Zealanders have an inherent distain for the genetic engineering of animals. When you consider the foetal abnormalities, deformities and congenital health defects of cloned GE animals, kiwis have very valid reasons to oppose GE.”
The survey shows two thirds (67%) of people who expressed an opinion are opposed. Opposition is equally strong across different ethnicities: among those with Maori descent who expressed an opinion nine out of ten (86%) are opposed.
INDIVIDUAL COMMENTS FROM SURVEY
“The public and potential consumers need more information about the actual ‘modifications’ that will be undertaken. The potential to damage the already tarnished ‘green’ image of New Zealand is vast. The prospect of discovering some vague benefit ‘by accident’ is probably outweighed 100-1 by the chance of causing some unexpected harm ‘by accident’.”
“Many historical agricultural moves have been proven to work only for the company that developed them and have not necessarily increased production or profits for farmers”.
“These are the same type of people who said making beef feed from scrapie-infected lamb poses no risk, yet this is where BSE came from.”
“It is part of our ‘clean green’ image overseas to avoid the GE package and with a little-known economy like ours a reputation (even if it’s not true) goes a long way to identifying us.”
“In theory it sounds fantastic to be able to progress with potential medical advancements, however the risks of cross-contamination are unknown and that is why my view is ‘on the fence’.
“I would like more information on what they are doing and how safe it is so that if things go wrong we are protected. I would just want more information to be available as to the exact things they are going to do, not just a general overview. It could be worthwhile but it just doesn’t sound right towards animals.”
“It’s a waste of time and money; just cancel the plan.”
“It is short sighted, our focus should be protecting our clean green and unmodified image.”
“Let the international companies who are backing this research do it in their own countries.”
“It is not time to do this in New Zealand yet. Give it another ten years and try again.”
The survey of 1007 people was conducted between the 23rd and 28th of September 2008 through Colmar Brunton’s Omnijet and is a representative sample of the New Zealand online population.
The question asked:
“Do you support the genetic modification of animals in New Zealand?”
The following statement introduced the question:
Government research institute AgResearch has applied to develop Genetically Modified (GM)* animals at sites around New Zealand, including Waikato, Canterbury, and Southland.
AgResearch are seeking approval for an unlimited period of time, to genetically modify cows, goats, sheep, pigs, deer, llama, horses, rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens and cell-lines from humans and monkeys.
The intention is to recombine genes from the different species for research, as well as for commercial production of pharmaceuticals and milks with potential medical effects. The GM animals will be kept indoors or behind secure fencing outdoors. Food products developed from the GM animals will have official approval to be sold.
Concerns raised about the applications include the impact on New Zealand’s clean green reputation, animal suffering in the experiments, potential for new diseases or contamination of soil, and liability of the public for costs of clean-up if something unexpected goes wrong.
AgResearch believes it can be at the cutting edge of genetic modification of ‘transgenic’ animals and become a world leader. It has investment from overseas biotechnology companies which are interested in the cost efficiency of producing pharmaceuticals in New Zealand animals. AgResearch says other benefits may also be found by accident through the experiments.
*Sometimes called Genetically Engineered (GE) organisms.