February 2024 Newsletter

GM-Free Australia Alliance advocates for food and farming free from

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

Thank you for opening this email and supporting GM-Free in Australia.

Welcome to 2024, and to another year of remaining GM-Free. This month looks at genetically engineering wasps at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Plus in other New Zealand news, the coalition’s agenda to liberalise laws on Genetic Engineering will allow the exemption and release of Genetically Engineered organisms. Then internationally, has the European Commission ignored sound science from experts to favour industry?

Say NO to GMOs by sending us photos of the labels of your favourite GM-Free Foods to add to our list at truefood@gmfreeaustralia.org.au

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Otago GE Wasp Project violates International Gene Drive agreement

Professor Dearden, Otago University, has received $11 million from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE) to engineer wasps using gene drive technology.  He is only consulting with Māori and regulators, whilst ignoring and side-lining the views of other concerned New Zealanders.   

Gene Drives using gene editing CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat) technology.  This genetic engineering causes a permanent modification of the organisms genome, which is passed on to all subsequent generations. Gene drives are designed to impact reproduction or kill the developing larvae. Due to the irreversibility of gene drives, any out-crossing across species could collapse the insect ecosystems affecting pollinators and food security. 

The approval of this gene drive application is a worldwide concern, as it overrides the decision on gene drives being considered at a global level through the UN Convention of Biodiversity (CBD).  MBIE and researchers at the University of Otago have violated the agreement to work in unison with the international community. International concern has already been raised by the project. [1]

Image of wasp Photograph: Donna Brunet for jooin.com

“It is not enough for the Otago University scientists to begin consulting with Māori. The global community has flagged that Gene Drives are an international concern and should not be left to countries to do their own thing,” said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-free NZ (in food and environment). SynBiocritics International’s Jim Thomas said that the Otago University project has implications for pollinators  and biodiversity. 

“The UN expert group is currently discussing the biodiversity threats of gene drives and engineered insects for addressing invasive species” said Jim Thomas, “and here they are engineering pollinators  – not very smart.”

Wasps are one of the most diverse, comprising of many species insect taxa.  Globally, there are 33,000 species across 22 families. New Zealand has thousands of native wasps that are parasitic and act as insect controls. [2] They are found across ecosystems and exhibit diverse evolutionary associations with other organisms. Wasps play an essential ecological and economic role of importance to the health, well-being and nutritional needs of our planet. Brock et al. (2021) found that wasps have a pollinator relationship with up to a thousand plants over a range of habitats.  They are also important maintaining biodiversity and have a bio-pest control function [3].

New Zealand representatives at the UN CBD have previously been warned against blocking Gene Drives from being a matter of significance for the global community to consider. [4]

In 2021 Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade position acknowledged that no scientifically sound data or risk assessment has taken place but did not support a “strong” precautionary principle toward synthetic biology organisms and gene drives. 

The Ministry’s position reflects the more commercial views on the claimed benefits of environmental release.  This stance appears to prevent risks and scientific uncertainty from being addressed. [5 ] 

The Convention on Biodiversity (COP) informal meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-24) recognised that synthetic biology and gene drives could have the potential to result in irreversible impacts on biodiversity. 

“New Zealand scientists must not go rogue. We must be part of the international community deliberations and not be seen to be pushing ahead against the international concern,” said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-free NZ (in food and environment).

[1] https://www.otago.ac.nz/news/newsroom/bringing-an-end-to-the-buzz-should-we-genetically-modify-wasps

[2] https://teara.govt.nz/en/wasps-and-bees

[3] Brock, R.E., Cini, A. and Sumner, S. (2021), Ecosystem services provided by aculeate wasps. Biol Rev, 96: 1645-1675. https://doi.org/10.1111/brv.12719


[5] https://www.gefree.org.nz/assets/Uploads/R-OIA-27593-Jon-Muller-Requested-Information-Redacted.pdf – MFAT reply to OIA: Synthetic Biology p.32/122. 


Jon Carapiet  – spokesman 0210507681

Claire Bleakley – president – 027 348 6731 (GE Free New Zealand, 2024)


(GE Free New Zealand in Food and Environment Inc., 31 January 2024) Otago GE Wasp Project violates International Gene Drive agreement 


Liberalisation of Genetic Engineering Threatens the Environment, Farmers and New Zealand

The coalition governments’ move to loosen biotechnology (GE) regulation is set to let down farmers and consumers and put New Zealand’s export reputation at risk.

New Zealand’s strict genetic engineering laws, under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO), have allowed farmers to avoid the negative consequences of GE commercialisation overseas. [1]

The coalition’s agenda to liberalise laws on Genetic Engineering and allow the exemption and release of Genetically Engineered organisms will fail to ensure strong protections for human health and the environment. Despite claims that a new Regulator will be set up to manage any risks, the reality is that farmers and exporters will suffer economic damage.

Our distance from major markets will affect trade, as food from New Zealand will be considered no different to food from places like the US and Argentina, and Brand New Zealand will lose the asset of being GE-Free, estimated to currently be worth billions of dollars to the economy.

How to Grow and Care for Winter Rye Grass

Image of winter ryegrass Photograph: thespruce.com

“Make no mistake. The new government’s pro-biotechnology has a price to pay for farmers and exporters if we lose our point of difference as having superior standards for food safety and traceability than competing countries,” said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE Free NZ (in food and environment).

GE crops designed to be resistant to glyphosate are not grown in New Zealand. But their use overseas has had negative impacts on farmers and their families. Health effects from the use of glyphosate based herbicides, used on GE tolerant crops, are increasing and being directly linked to cancer in animals and humans [2] [3]

“The new government is backing GE technology that has failed to improve and fight climate change. We have had 24 years of GE crops and to date this has only expedited the risks of climate change with overuse of pesticides, monocultures of GE herbicide-tolerant crops and increased weed and pest resistance. This is leading to overuse of topical insecticides, like the dangerous bee killing neonicotinoids,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ (in food and environment).

Overseas farmers have lost their organic status of GE contamination from floods and climate extremes [4] Scientists who have worked in the large Agribiotech corporations are moving to regenerative methods after seeing the failures of GE crops. [5]

There is growing weed and pest resistance affecting food production and threatening farmers economic livelihoods. [5] New Zealand regulations have prevented that happening here and must not be sacrificed to promote commercial GE products that threaten Brand New Zealand’s unique environment, and food reputation.

In New Zealand Genetically Engineered field trial have failed to deliver. The GE Rye grass failed to perform, Trials of GE brassica were susceptible to an undefined fungus that rotted the stems. GE alliums – onions – have been a failure. The experimental GE trees were stunted and died, and the existing trees are struggling to show any benefit over conventionally bred ones. Trials of GE animals has caused cruel suffering with abortions and deformities, respiratory and limb problems. [6]

New Zealand has benefited from policy that ensures Genetically Engineered and Gene Edited organisms are kept in containment. The emerging new biotechnologies (NBTs) or GE technologies are fraught with unintended and off target effects causing possibly deleterious mutations that must be regulated. [8]

New Zealand’s opportunity is in using existing innovative non-GE science and methods that can already provide the solutions that farmers need.

These non-GE options will protect Brand New Zealand’s reputation and the integrity of the environment. These include management of pests by conventional means. Also researching and implementing organic and regenerative agricultural systems that reduce pollution and global warming.

These systems represent real climate action that also allows New Zealand to trade competitively and differentiate our exports on world markets.

This is not a time when we should be introducing GE. Our customers in international markets simply don’t want it.

If we can protect New Zealand’s capacity as an exporter of GE Free food we will be leading the world in innovation, and enterprise. Farming is still the cornerstone of our economy and we must promote non-polluting and safe food production.


[1] https://cban.ca/gmos/issues/environmental-impacts/

[2] https://www.reuters.com/legal/bayer-ordered-pay-156-billion-latest-us-trial-loss-over-roundup-weedkiller-2023-11-19/

[3] Panzacchi S et al (2023). Leukemia in Sprague-Dawley rats exposed long-term from prenatal life to glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2023.11.14.566013v1.article-info

[4] https://foodandwaterwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/GMO-Contamination-Farmers-IB-March-2014_0.pdf

[5] https://non-gmoreport.com/articles/from-gmos-to-regenerative-agriculture-a-scientists-journey/

[6] OIA responses to GE Free NZ on field trials https://www.gefree.org.nz/official-information-act-requests/

[7] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fbioe.2023.1276226/full (GE Free New Zealand, 2023)


(GE Free New Zealand in Food and Environment Inc., 27/11/2023) Liberalisation of Genetic Engineering Threatens the Environment, Farmers and New Zealand.


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GMOs: The EU Commission ignores its experts to reassure industry

Has the European Commission based its proposal to deregulate GMOs/NGTs (new genomic techniques, new GM) on “sound science” or on the demands of seed companies? Documents obtained by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) show that the Commission chose to listen to the companies rather than its own experts at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EFSA had indeed asked for an assessment – albeit a relatively light one – of the risks of “new GMOs”. However, the European Commission has proposed to abolish this requirement, as requested by certain companies.

On July 5, 2023, the European Commission published its plan to deregulate GMOs obtained using “new genomic techniques” (GMOs/NGTs). Contrary to its usual practice, the Commission made very little reference to the notion of “sound science”. It makes no mention of it either in the press release accompanying its proposal, or in the contribution on the “Green Pact” policy which serves as the political justification for the same proposal [1]. Only the FAQ details that the Commission has relied “on EU-level scientific advisory bodies”, including the EFSA [2]. An Authority which recommended, in October 2022, that plants genetically modified by new techniques be evaluated [3].

Image of EU’s Commission consultation of new genomic techniques Photograph: proterrafoundation.org

Commission reassures companies

Between 2012 and 2020, EFSA published several opinions on the risks associated with GMO/NGT plants. These concluded that a risk assessment, albeit a simplified one, is necessary. In October 2022, this body completed its work by publishing a document listing the “six main criteria to assist the risk assessment” of these GMO/NGT plants [4].

This latest opinion has caused concern among companies, who want no risk assessment to be required. In fact, this opinion, like its predecessors, acknowledges the need for a risk assessment. Correspondence between the Commission and certain companies or company representatives shows that the latter mobilized against this opinion at the end of 2022 / beginning of 2023.

In December 2022, Croplife explained to the European Commission that it was concerned that the EFSA opinion “might give the impression that a mandatory risk assessment strep is necessary for all plants obtained by targeted mutagenesis, cisgenesis and intragenesis”. For, Croplife argues, current GMO legislation is simply “not an appropriate basis to regulate these plants [unlike] the existing framework available for conventional breeding has shown to provide a high level of protection.”

In January 2023, Limagrain expressed the same concern to the Commission, albeit in more restrained terms. It regretted that the Commission had restricted EFSA’s mandate to the legislative framework for GMOs, whereas it should have asked EFSA “considerations of whether a risk assessment would be needed for conventional-like NGT plants”.

Finally, in the same month, the French Plant Biotechnology Association (AFBV) also took up the cause. In February 2023, the European Commission replied that it had received the document in which the AFBV wrote that it does “not share EFSA’s apparent recommendation that a mandatory risk assessment step is necessary for plants obtained by directed mutagenesis, cisgenesis and intragenesis” (GMWatch & Inf’OGM, 2023).


(GMWatch, 25 October 20233 & Inf’OGM 5 October 2023) GMOs: The Commission ignores its experts to reassure industry.

GMOs: The Commission ignores its experts to reassure industry (gmwatch.org)

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Our team at GM-Free Australia Alliance Inc. work tirelessly on educating people about the dangers of GMOs, including the next generation of GMOs 2.0, GENE EDITING. We are strongly advocating for GMO labelling through the updating of the GM-Free True Food Guide.


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Working for a GM-Free Australia

GM-Free Australia Alliance advocates for food and farming free from

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)!

We oppose the genetic engineering, editing, modification & manipulation

of living organisms.

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Yours in True Food Freedom, 

GMFAA Committee of Management

GM-Free Australia Alliance Inc. 



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