Royal Commission of Inquiry into Genetic Modification

Page - December 14, 2006
The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Genetic Modification (RCIGM) occurred in New Zealand in 2000.

Greenpeace cross-examined government and industry witnesses, made extensive submissions and brought a strong list of its own expert witnesses from abroad as part of presenting the case for New Zealand remaining GE Free in food and the environment. 

Greenpeace made an oral presentation on the 16 February 2000 in Auckland District Court.

Royal Commission Report and recommendations

While the Commission recognised the scientific uncertainties of GE release, Greenpeace believes the Commission failed to adequately apply the precautionary principle in determining that New Zealand should "proceed with caution" in allowing the release of living GE organisms.

The report acknowledged that little is yet known about the environmental impacts of genetically modified organisms, and in particular in New Zealand "on the potential adverse effects, or risks of such effects, on the indigenous biota" (Ch 6, p 142).

The Commission's findings also failed to reflect extensive Maori concerns and the strong public sentiment in favour of a GE free environment - with 92 percent of the 11,000 public submissions made to the Commission opposing GE release. 

The decision to allow GE release or not became a political decision once the report was presented to Government in July 2001. 

Enormous public pressure went on the Labour Government to keep New Zealand GE free including the first of the major GE free marches held in Auckland City on 1 September 2001.

Despite polls showing strong opposition only a month before, the Government made no move to halt the scheduled lifting of the GE moratorium which occurred on October 29, 2003. 

However, over three years after the GE moratorium was lifted, there were still no commercial GE crops grown in New Zealand and the nations "GE free" production status was now being spoken of by Government Ministers, officials, farmers and exporters as of significant value.

The five international experts called by Greenpeace were:

  • Anuradha Mittal - Co-Director of the US based Institute for Food and Development also known as Food First - website
  • Bill Christison - Fourth generation US family farmer
  • Professor Terje Traavik - A joint witness with Friends of the Earth and ECO. Professor Traavik is the Scientific Director of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, and Professor of Virology, of the Department of Microbiology and Virology, School of Medicine, University of Tromso, Norway
  • Doreen Stabinsky - a scientific advisor for the genetic engineering campaign for Greenpeace US and Greenpeace International
  • John King - Professor of Biology Massachusetts Institute of Technology