New Zealand’s prime minister Helen Clark yesterday announced the government will accept the majority of the proposals of the NZ$6m (US$2.5m) Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, which recommended trials be resumed under strict conditions.

While Clark said that in some areas her government would impose tougher criteria than the Commission recommended, her decision has nevertheless provoked anger among many parties, including some of the government’s own parliamentary supporters, who have been campaigning to keep genetically modified organisms out of New Zealand.

Recent polls indicate that 63% of NZ citizens do now want GM foods (Source: Financial Times), but Clark said the country would “become the laughing stock of the world” if it upheld its moratorium on GM field trials. She added that she would not give way to pressure from environmental activists looking to follow the example of colleagues in India and the UK.

“A nation that says you’ve got to stop your scientists doing things is a nation that is heading backwards fast,” Miss Clark said. “Over my lifetime, I’ve seen New Zealand slip, slip and slip again and my government is trying to do something about it.”

Her decision was met with relief by food industry bosses who had threatened to take their research and development programmes overseas if the moratorium remained in place.

The government will give the green light to field trials under strict controls and inspection, replacing a voluntary moratorium. Trials will be approved only if all field tests are carried out under strict confinement and all modified materials, including seeds, are removed at the end of the trial.

Opponents claim that these guarantees are impossible to maintain. Groundswell, the anti GM protest group, already indicated it is planning raids to disrupt the trials. Activist Tremane Barr called the Commission report “a farce and a fraud” and said that Crop and Food Lincoln is a likely target for eco-sabotage.

To read a feature on the Royal Commission’s report and reaction to it, members can visit: