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NZ farmers desire move towards organic, Tegel announces GM-free feed policy

(Aug. 27, 2001 – CropChoice news) – The United States government might be considering a challenge to Europe’s new regulations about the labeling and traceability of transgenic foods ( www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A59952-2001Aug24.html), but in New Zealand the situation seems quite different. More farmers are thinking about going organic and a major poultry producer announced that it will market only chickens raised on non-transgenic feed.

First, the report – "Environmental Beliefs and Farm Practices of New Zealand Organic, Conventional and GE Intending Farmers" – that the Agribusiness and Economic Research Unit of Lincoln University produced reveals the intention of nearly 40 percent of farmers in the country to go organic within 5 to 10 years. The researchers surveyed 656 randomly selected farmers. There are about 60,000 to 70,000 farmers in New Zealand, including 14,000 dairy farmers, estimated Green Party MP and organic farmer Ian Ewen-Street. He told CropChoice that these results are not surprising given that this is the latest in a series of surveys done over the past 5 years.

Ten percent of New Zealand farmers currently describe their growing practices as organic, 73 percent as conventional and 17 percent as potentially transgenic (were the government, in adherence to the advice of the Royal Commission, to allow the cultivation and exportation of genetically modified crops).

In 5 to 10 years, the number of farmers wishing to farm organically will jump from 27 percent to 37 percent, the number intending to continue conventional farming will drop to 46 percent and the number planning to grow transgenic varieties will remain at 17 percent, according to the report.

Ewen-Street told the Rural Reporter: "I welcome this report because it shows what I have been saying for some time - that more and more farmers are realising the huge opportunity of organics and are looking to switch. It also shows that apart from a small and static group, farmers are rejecting genetic engineering and that those who intend to use it are typically dairy farmers and those with the highest farm incomes…Like the people of New Zealand, farmers know that they cannot have it both ways. We cannot have genetically engineered and organic agriculture co-existing. We cannot have genetic engineering and keep our clean, green, natural image."

Meanwhile, Tegel, the largest poultry company in New Zealand and part of the Heinz Company, announced that the chickens it buys will be raised on non-transgenic feed.

Like other large New Zealand chicken producers, Tegel feed has until now included soymeal containing a proportion of meal from transgenic soybeans. The company recently reached an agreement with a US based feed supplier that will ensure a continual supply of non-transgenic soymeal.

Peter Lucas, the managing director of Tegel, said in a press release that the "decision was made in response to consumer concerns about GMOs and is consistent with Heinz worldwide policy. Consumers in New Zealand have voiced their fears to us and we have been able to respond to these worries in a practical way. Consumer research that we carried out showed that almost 60 percent of consumers were concerned about New Zealand chicken being fed from genetically modified crops and over 75 percent would prefer their chicken not to be raised on transgenic feed."