Malice in Blunderland

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Hi All -
Please circulate this on your network if it is within your topic area.  All the best, Chris

Malice in Blunderland - GE decision follows the same old blueprint Twenty years of the "New Zealand Experiment" have taught the NZ Royal Commission on Genetic Modification nothing. They wasted $6.5 million of taxpayer money producing a report written by the gene jockey industry which just gave New Zealand some more empty slogans - "Bio-tech Revolution" & "Knowledge Economy" - and lost that country probably its only chance this century to make a real difference. Chris Wheeler surveys 20 years of Kiwi blundering in the dark. (3254 words)

(Auckland, New Zealand, August 1st, 2001) New Zealand has lost the opportunity of a lifetime to ban general field release of genetically engineered food crops and maintain this island nation's developing status as one of the last producers of genuinely GE-free and organic food crops on the planet. A farming nation that has most recently built a reputation on winning boat races has totally missed the boat on the one issue it could have easily built a world marketing advantage around, and demonstrated in the world spotlight just how open to political manipulation a government-appointed advisory body can be.

International focus has been on New Zealand for the past twelve months as a Royal Commission on Genetic Modification deliberated the issues surrounding genetic engineering and New Zealand was being widely seen as a test bed for the whole GE debate with far-reaching implications for the scientific as well as the commercial arguments in the case. Unfortunately, any hope of a proper examination of the issues involved was doomed from the outset by the nature of the Commission itself and the way it conducted its affairs by legal cross-examination. Four elderly, well-intentioned, but gullible, middle class New Zealanders - Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, Drs Jacqueline Allan and Jean Fleming and the Right Reverend Richard Randerson - were, in the end, led by the nose through a process they lacked the expertise and intellectual gumption to query, by a team of high-priced legal counsels employed by major genetic engineering corporates and consortia whose daily presence ensured that this Royal Commission could only come up with answers which would favour a genetic engineering case.

This was neither an objective nor an even-handed appraisal of the major GE issues. What the world community of interest in the New Zealand Commission's deliberations do not know is that access to the Commission was subject to application being made by the various interest groups involved in genetic engineering issues and that such applications were then carefully vetted, ensuring that at least 70 percent of the finally approved "interested parties" were strongly in favour of the introduction of genetic engineering.  From then on out it was easy to put a solid PR gloss over proceedings to give the appearance that the public was being widely consulted.

Yes, public meetings were held. Individuals COULD make written submissions - and thousands did. Indigenous Maori opinion was sought. But all this was done accompanied by a tightly controlled publicity exercise that hid the inevitable reality that the final report would give virtually no weight to the thousands of anti-GE petitions received by the Commission.

How it was done
95 percent of the arguments received by the Commission, including those presented by respected international genetics scientists such as Drs Peter Wills and Arpad Pusztai, and Monsanto-battling Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, were against genetic engineering, so how did it come about that its report is so whole-heartedly in support of GE? Lacking the financial resources and legal expertise to mount an effective counter campaign and with the largely international-corporate- owned NZ media against them, the GE opposition were out-manoeuvred and out-gunned at every turn of the Commission process by a pro-GE machine that was prepared to throw immense resources into controlling not only how the Commission itself would perceive the evidence presented to it, but how the media and even the greater bulk of opinion makers and politicians in the New Zealand Parliament would perceive the issues.

It would be wrong, however, to say the Royal Commission was captured by the GE industry. Its personnel and its agenda was chosen from the outset to guarantee the result it got - carte blanche approval of the GE industry's full research and promotion agenda and whole-scale use of genetic engineering and GE crops and products in New Zealand.

Because there was such wide public opposition to GE (in various polls over the past two years a majority of NZers have demanded controls over GE) and because there was such significant and vocal opposition to its employment by the NZ Green Party, Greenpeace, food safety and organics lobbies, the NZ Government HAD TO mount a cosmetic exercise which would give the APPEARANCE of proper public consultation, but would deliver a verdict comprehensively in favour of genetic engineering.

The Commission's report in favour of GE has now become an effective tool for beating the GE opposition and the Green Party in Parliament around the head - probably the only reason for this whole $NZ6.5 million taxpayer-funded farce in the first place!  As PM Helen Clark, her Parliamentary colleagues and the GE industry are now saying all across the NZ media: "You got what you asked for - a complete and comprehensive review of GE policy and science. 

The expert view resulting from the Royal Commission's deliberations is that GE is an essential part of New Zealand's economic survival and a leading aspect of our new 'Knowledge Economy' and must be allowed to go ahead with the minimum of restrictions. Now shut-up. Stop complaining, and accept the majority opinion."

Of course there are some derisory "controls" being recommended in the Royal Commission report, but in my past 20 years of direct involvement in agriculture issues and membership of official bodies deliberating on environmental control strategies in New Zealand, I have yet to see effective legislation or regulation controlling ANY aspect of the agrichemical abuse that New Zealand is notorious for in informed world environmental circles and GE abuse will fare little better. The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) cited in the Commission's report as the responsible agency overseeing GE trials and releases has been controlled from the first day of its establishment several years ago by powerful industry lobby groups with the necessary financial resources to fight any environmental group's submissions to a standstill. 

For 20 years I have been involved in various attempts to place effective controls over the profligate application of carcinogenic pesticides by New Zealand farmers, which contributes to New Zealand's record levels of breast, prostate and bowel cancer, childhood leukaemia and birth defects, and have met with continual official apathy and obstruction, particularly from official regulatory agencies. I and the knowledgeable anti-GE community in New Zealand have absolutely no faith in the new GE review apparatus being suggested by the Commission because we know that just as with appointments to the food regulatory Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) and ERMA, membership will be heavily weighted with GE industry stooges and political appointees guaranteed to preserve the status quo.

Now, with the Royal Commission's recommendation that "conditional release" of GE food crops be permitted under a cosmetically modified but virtually unchanged regulatory structure, an opportunity for New Zealand agriculture to become a world leader in organic production has been lost forever. Now only Tasmania, off the Australian coast, is left in the Southern Hemisphere as the one relatively isolated landmass where a sound GE-free policy could reasonably work.

Why? - the historic background Knowing New Zealand as well as I do, I have had to continually remind my offshore friends watching the deliberations of the NZ Royal Commission on Genetic Modification from the other side of the world, that New Zealand is truly the land of the sub-editors' joke headline, "Malice in Blunderland", where the village idiot can attain to political office and bad decision-making is a national way of life. The intelligent world out there beyond the seas surrounding New Zealand needs to understand something of the economic holocaust that has overtaken this country in the past 20 years in order to fully comprehend exactly why a GE Commission here could never responsibly and objectively deal with the ethical and scientific issues involved in genetic engineering.

Whatever New Zealand's current Prime Minister Helen Clark may say to the contrary and however much the tiny NZ Green Party who keep the minority Labour Government in power may protest, this environmentally beautiful but ethically bankrupt nation still resolutely pursues the dream of a "Light at the End of the Tunnel" solution to its self-induced woes - a solution which the wholehearted pursuit of biotechnology is now seen to be part of.

There is something of a New Guinea Cargo Cult colouring to this national myth, which makes the addition of genetic engineering to the dream of eventual deliverance so potentially attractive to the average New Zealander or Kiwi, as we like to call ourselves. 

For nearly twenty years now, Kiwis (appropriately, perhaps, a flightless bird that digs for worms in the dark) have waited for the light at the end of the tunnel promised by the 1984 Lange/Douglas Labour Government, which initiated the savage Milton Friedman/Let Market Forces Rule bloodbath, while experiencing huge social dislocation, dramatic drops in household income and spending power, huge increases in violent and property crime, and the disappearance of guaranteed employment and leisure time.

Regrettably we never seem to learn, having re-elected in the current minority Labour Government many of the very team - including the Prime Minister Helen Clark - who instituted the disastrous "New Zealand Experiment" in the first place! Clark, it should be added, is a wholehearted supporter of genetic engineering. The GE Commission's decision will thus take a fitting place alongside that long list of disasters that epitomise the past nearly twenty years of New Zealand history.

In the words of one critic of the Experiment, Murray Dobbin of the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives: " There are lessons from New Zealand, but they do not involve adopting that tortured country as a model. The first lesson is that the unfettered application of ideology is inevitably destructive - not just to democracy, social peace and equality but to the economy. Even as the revolution continued to deliver disastrous results, its promoters claimed it was because it had not gone far enough." (1)

Failed promises
Every promise made by 1984 Finance Minister Roger Douglas to justify the pain New Zealand was to go through has since proved to be a lie. Growth has not occurred. As Dobbin points out, in the years 1985-92, average economic growth in the OECD countries totaled 20%, while in New Zealand it was negative, at minus 1%. Promised creation of enormous new wealth went into reverse: Real GDP in 1992, at 5%, was below the 1985-86 level. A burst of growth from 1993 to 1995 petered out, and the economy steadily declined until it dipped into negative territory in 1998, posting the fourth-worst growth in the OECD.

This situation has worsened considerably since that time, prompting Professor Robert Wade of the London School of Economics to warn attendees at a recent Auckland University economic seminar (2) that New Zealand has had one of the slowest economic growth rates in the developed world since 1985 and now risks becoming the first country in 50 years to lose its "developed" status.

The promised removal of overseas debt has only occurred via the sale of New Zealand, lock, stock and barrel, to overseas corporates. Debt in 1984 was $NZ22 billion, but after 10 years of experimenting, it had doubled to $ NZ45 billion - in spite of the sell-off of $NZ16 billion in government owned assets including state banking, the national power, rail and telephone services and state public works facilities.

Under the Labour Government "reforms" nearly half a million New Zealanders have been put out of work in the past fifteen years as state enterprises like the railways, post and telephone services dumped workers by the tens of thousands and de-regulation of industry and the removal of tariff barriers to shoes, clothing, electrical goods and a host of common consumer items put workers on the dole queues. As productive factories nationwide were closed down or bankrupted, production machinery was sold offshore to S.E. Asia, Indonesia, India, Taiwan and Korea in receivership auctions, skilled workers migrated and trade education courses closed down as funding was withdrawn by a succession of governments that declared industrial skills were not the state's business.

True unemployment in 2001 is probably 16 percent - the highest anywhere in the developed world - but employment statistics are typically fudged by a succession of governments which defend Market Forces mythology as if it was written somewhere on Mosaic tablets of stone. A youth denied hope in a viable economic future commit suicide at a rate which has drawn the attention of the WHO and the route of tertiary education, which in other more effective economies offers a nation's young hope and a way out in pursuit of professional skills, is denied by a government- backed policy of crippling User Pays education fees ensuring education remains the privilege of the children of the wealthy.

New Zealand is increasingly being promoted to Northern Hemisphere tourists as a vast Club Med holiday camp and unemployed New Zealanders, dumped by business close-downs, ordered into re-training as casino black-jack dealers, hotel cleaners, taxi-drivers and tourist guides. The New Zealand Parliament in the meantime has voted itself huge pay increases as a reward for its ineptitude in governance, stripped away the last laws limiting the power of international corporates, weakened the rights of workers to organise themselves or seek redress for employer wrongs, tripled the rents on housing for the poor and opened the nation's borders to cheap junk imports manufactured in Asian
sweatshops.

Blunderland realities
In typical Blunderland fashion the New Zealand clone of Wal-Mart which imports all this shoddy rubbish, the ubiquitous Warehouse chain (where "Everyone gets a bargain"), is held up to Kiwis as an example of entrepreneurial acumen and its owner, Stephen Tindall, feted as a national benefactor. Meanwhile the two who made his fortune possible, ex-PM David Lange and Finance Minister Roger Douglas, would, in a more rational world, be placed on trial at the International Court of Justice in the Hague for crimes against humanity. Instead an increasingly incoherent Lange makes money in retirement from the business talk-fest circuit, selling breakfast food on TV and suing critics of his eight catastrophic years in office. Roger Douglas, in an episode reminiscent of Orwell's "Animal Farm" in reverse, dabbled in a pig farm investigated for cruelty by the RSPCA and described by one farm inspector as the filthiest she had ever seen, but now travels the world spreading economic disaster, supported by the IMF, the World Bank and New Right economists.

Neither man could be trusted in charge of a lawn-mowing franchise. New Zealand put them in charge of a country for eight years during which time they did more damage to the social structure and economy than was managed by previous Parliamentary incompetents in even the worst days of the 30s Great Depression. Their "reforms" promised increases in productivity, but after eight years of restructuring and massive labour deregulation, New Zealand's productivity was set on a decline from which it has never recovered. For example, between 1990 and 1998 Australia posted a 21.9 percent increase. New Zealand managed a miserable 5.2 percent. This decline has been steady and reflects the profound loss of manufacturing facilities and skills.

Only the wealthy in New Zealand have seen any benefit from this destructive exercise in social engineering. Between 1984 and 1996, the top 10 percent of income earners increased their net worth by 50 percent or more while the lowest 10 percent lost 21.6 percent of their 1984 income. Many of the top 10 percent became multi-millionaires under the Douglas/Lange regime and those who have not hoisted their ill-gotten gains and themselves overseas - as notorious winners in the "reforms" such as Michael Fay, David Richwhite and Douglas Myers have done - now work under the umbrella of the Business Roundtable (sic) to pressure PM Helen Clark into releasing the last unsold state assets (TV broadcasting, the Post Office, etc) into their relentlessly grasping hands.

More than 50% of the total working population now have considerably lower real income than they did in 1984, work sweat shop hours and typically have more than one job, reflecting employment conditions in the factory slums of 19th Century England, rather than the socially secure paradise those of us from an older generation can still remember. Little wonder that many New Zealanders have lost heart in the tunnel light myth and now flee the country in droves, producing a situation where Prof Wade warns: "Once a threshold density of skilled people is lost, the rate of out-migration is likely to accelerate, companies and organisations will have increasing trouble meeting staffing needs, the quality of public services will decline, the tax base will erode..."(2)

As a consequence of all this radical mismanagement, New Zealand is now Australia's poor neighbour, de-industrialised, de-skilled, and largely dependent on the technological and industrial know-how and products of former peasant economies who had the foresight to govern their nations in the diametrically opposite direction. To its closest neighbour, Australia, New Zealand now has a status approximately equal to that of New Guinea or Fiji and the relationship between the two countries is typified by the one-way flow of skilled labour north-west across the Tasman Sea. Apart from the occasional mention of Kiwi sporting teams and oddities like an elephant seal squashing a car, New Zealand receives less mention in the Australian media than the weather in Moscow.

History repeats itself
This is the reality on which understanding of New Zealand's flirtation with genetic engineering has to be understood. A crippled nation which exports its best and most creative brains overseas can only be expected to come up with another crippled formula for the future. The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification's report rambles on about "New Zealand taking a leading place in the Bio-tech Revolution", but has produced a blueprint which shows all the shortsightedness, lack of planning and stupidity which ushered in the original New Zealand Experiment.

A distinguishing feature of that experiment has always been recourse to the latest faddish expressions as if resorting to a topical label would somehow change national thinking and turn the economy around by the pressure of semantics. "Think Big", "User Pays", "Market Forces", "Filter Down Mechanism", "Information Age", and now "Bio-tech Revolution" and "Knowledge Economy" - we New Zealanders have lived through them all without seeing them make one iota of difference to the general state of the nation and no one here believes the emerging Bio-tech Revolution will lead anywhere but overseas, where an average 11,000 Kiwis settle permanently every year.

Crucially, the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification has failed completely to clarify to New Zealand and the rest of the world the real issues involved in the whole debate regarding genetic engineering - that from beginning to end the whole Frankenstein technology that present GE experimentation represents, is directed towards corporate control and ownership and the personal profit of a squalid group of third-rate scientific brains lacking the moral and intellectual fortitude to see where their lunatic experiments are leading. I do not believe that Greater Nature will easily forgive what New Zealand has joined North America in unleashing. They who have sown the wind may yet live to
reap the whirlwind.

References
1. Murray Dobbin, "The lesson in New Zealand Economic Policy", reported on
<www.pl.net>, July 16, 2001.
2. Simon Collins, " 'Developed' status in
danger", NZ Herald, 1.8.01, page 3.

ABOUT THE WRITER
Chris Wheeler is former president of the NZ Soil & Health Association, New Zealand's foremost organic agriculture lobby group and a Southern Hemisphere writer on environmental and health issues who has been widely published in Australia and New Zealand.

ENDS

Chris Wheeler
P O Box 17-535, Greenlane
Auckland, New Zealand
Tel: (649) 846 7479 or Mobile: 021 505 201
Email:chrisw@pl.net




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