15 April 2003

Mothers against Genetic Engineering

Interesting article about Mothers against Genetic Engineering (MAdGE) from the magazine of the UK supermarket chain, Waitrose -

For more about MAdGE:
GM Foods, Waitrose Food Magazine

Alannah Currie reports from New Zealand on her campaign to keep the Land of the Long White Cloud free from the taint of genetically modified foods.

In the summer of 2000 my sister Valerie was diagnosed with CJD. When she first became ill she likened it to having a hangover minus the headache. She was disorientated, lost her balance, her limbs ached and she was plagued with insomnia. Within just a few months she lost her mind, was completely bed-ridden and eventually, one cold winter night, she gently slipped off this mortal coil.

Her doctors here in New Zealand knew little about CJD so I trawled the internet looking for information and it led me into a previously unknown world of food technology and modern farming practices.

Food to me, as for most people, has always been more than just a combination of vitamins and minerals. It's about taste, smell, love, sex, tradition and memory. And I believe instinct dictates what is the right food to nurture and enrich us at any given time. It is our innate intelligence, and if we are smart we honour it and teach our children to do so as well.

It was on my journey into food technology and the causes of CJD that I discovered genetic modification. I became fascinated not only with the science but also the confidence of genetic engineers who were claiming that the new foods they had created were better than nature, in four billion years of evolution, had ever made.

I talked to researchers, attended lectures by visiting eminent scientists and became outraged that these new, cross-species foodstuffs were being included in the processed foods I was feeding my family every day. They were unlabelled, untested for long-term effects on humans and had the potential to irrevocably pollute our environment if we let them be grown in New Zealand.

It soon became clear to me that genetic engineering was not being led by good science, for which I have a deep respect, but by scientific cowboys funded by multinationals who cared more for market share than the health and wellbeing of our children and of our environment.

As Dr Judy Carman, an independent scientist who works for the Public Health Association of Australia said, "We are all being used as human guinea pigs in a mass, uncontrolled experiment."

For the most part, the public in New Zealand was unaware of what was going on. GM food was being introduced by stealth and it had to be stopped. So, overnight, I became a full-time GM-free campaigner.

Working with a small group of environmentalists and activists, we mounted a huge public awareness campaign. We were fast, witty and deliciously provocative. We made up T-shirts with anti-GM slogans that read, 'There are Reasons Why Toads don't Shag Tomatoes' and 'GM = Organised Crime Against the Environment'. We photographed local celebrities wearing them and inundated the press with the images. We put up billboards and posters all over Auckland and marched 15,000-strong in the pouring rain hoping the government would take notice.

They did, but it was short-lived. A two-year moratorium on the commercial application of GM technology was put in place, but that expires in October, and now, wooed by the prospect of a free-trade deal with the GM-supporting USA, our prime minister Helen Clark seems hell-bent on pushing forward with GM agriculture.

This is despite polls showing that most New Zealanders are against any sort of GM development outside the laboratory. If Clark has her way, we can look forward to designer milks from cows that have been genetically modified with human, rat, mice or deer genes and fed on genetically enhanced rye grass and clover. If that happens, we can kiss goodbye to clean, green New Zealand.

It makes no sense. New Zealand is an island nation that sits in glorious isolation in the South Pacific. With vigilant border controls, we could protect our unique GM-free status. We have the perfect opportunity for the whole country to be GM-free and to capitalise on our green image, not only environmentally but also economically. We could put our scientific knowledge and funding towards organic, sustainable farming and provide food for the world that is natural, varied and rich in the spirit of our land.

Last year I discovered that 80 per cent of the food in New Zealand is bought by women, so along with a small group of friends from Auckland I founded MAdGE (Mothers Against Genetic Engineering) - and within eight months we had 1,500 members across the country. Our message is simple. Genetic engineering is an experimental science in its infancy and therefore should be confined to safe and secure laboratories for ethical medical research.

We publish the names of food companies that may be using GM ingredients and press them to stop. We demonstrate at supermarkets with can-can dancers with 'GM-Free' emblazoned on their knickers, we put out newsletters, and we have a small but brilliant crew of lawyers who are currently taking our government's bio-security department to the high court for judicial

Our greatest strength, though, is as consumers. We all have purse power and each and every one of us can exercise it as we choose. By demanding GM-free products, British consumers can support New Zealand in its battle to stay GM-free. If there is no market for these foods, then our farmers won't be persuaded to grow them and will continue to supply you with clean, green produce from the Land of the Long White Cloud. GM: we don't buy it!

Waitrose does not sell any products under its own label that contain or are derived from GM crops. This covers all oils, additives and any other products derived from a GM crop. You can read about MAdGE on its website, madge.net.nz. To find out more about how GM issues affect you, contact the Soil Association on 0117 929 0661 or log on to soilassociation.org.