© Robert Anderson PhD
Originally published in Organic New Zealand,September/October 2006, Vol. 65 No. 5
When I was a youngster we had a great game we’d play at parties called Chef’s Choice. We would be blindfolded and we’d take it in turn to guess what food the host would put into our mouths. You can imagine the ghastly array of samples that came to light after the blindfolds came off. Kids can be really imaginative and it was all good fun. Now we are being forced to play this game with the government as our host, and it may prove more threatening. It is not heartening to know that you have a “blindfold” on when it comes to choosing food for your family.
Recently, the Labour government, with the help of the National Party, rejected Sue Kedgley’s Private Member’s Bill calling for full labelling on foods, including Country of Origin. This Bill had the support of all the other parties represented in Parliament. Putting aside the issue of democracy and governing for the benefit of the people, I personally do not wish to buy Californian apples when our orchardists grow excellent varieties, or bottled water from Australia, or meat from Europe. The rejection of Sue’s Bill denies New Zealanders the opportunity to “Buy NZ” and support our own producers and manufacturers.
There are a number of worrying problems arising from this decision. US citizens have been consuming genetically engineered/modified (GE or GM) foods for a decade or more, generally without knowing it.[i] Are we now to join them? We already have labelling laws for GE foods, but despite some 25 or so engineered foods being approved for the New Zealand food market, I have failed to find a single product on the supermarket shelf produced here that is labelled. Do they all fall below the “allowed” levels? I have no wish to feed my family on these untested and questionable foods[ii].
Although a vegetarian myself, there are those of us who have enjoyed the fine beef, pork and lamb grown in our country. Pork imported from Australia has already played its part in putting NZ pig producers out of business. Then I recently find that we import meat from Europe and the US. What happened to our reputation as a major exporter of meat? Why import meat we can produce at home?
Should this concern us? Because it is a fact that, unlike NZ animals (especially organically produced stock), the US[iii]and many European[iv]countries have BSE infected livestock. The US have been particularly remiss by aggressively denying that mad cow or BSE, and its human equivalent CJD, has been found in the States, in livestock and wild life.
Dr Maura Ricketts, a WHO[v]specialist, has said: “It was almost impossible to trace where suspect meat might have gone since mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was first identified in Britain.”[vi] Dr Ricketts declined to specify countries at risk on grounds it could provoke a consumer panic and “economic upheaval.” But the Campaign for Food Safety, a national network funded by foundations interested in organic food, said the US leads the world in “feeding animals to animals” - the principal theory behind the cause of BSE. Because of its long incubation period in humans, we cannot be complacent about this disease.
While we are on the subject of meat, what about excessive use of hormones, whether genetically engineered or not? Many countries that regularly inject chickens and stock with hormones, are now having grave problems showing up in their children.[vii] Recent studies show that children are extremely sensitive to some hormones.[viii] A UK expert, John Verrall, said in a recent report: “…that there is alarming evidence it (beef) can trigger breast and other cancers, bring forward puberty in girls, and increase the risk of genital abnormalities in boys.” Although attempts were made to gag him, Verrall, a member of a government advisory committee, has gone public with his fears. They are well founded. American beef, for example, is produced using an array of hormones: a typical assortment being oestradiol, testosterone, progesterone, zeranol, trenbolone and melegesterol acetate.
Dr Carlos Sonnenschein, of Tufts University School of Medicine, in Boston, has said that hormone residues appear to be the most likely cause of the early onset of puberty in young girls. He also warned: “Early onset of puberty with its raging hormones translates into higher risk of breast cancer.” By adding the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone to cattle, scientists can stimulate the animals to produce extra muscle and fat. Scientists often adopt synthetic compounds to mimic the action of the naturally occurring hormones. For example, trenbolone acetate mimics testosterone and zeranol mimics oestrogen. A recent EU study warned that consumers are at risk of developing cancer if they eat US beef treated with a particular growth hormone,[ix]oestradiol. According to the EU report, oestradiol is classified a complete carcinogen. The rate of breast cancer among women in the US is now 97 per 100,000 as against 67 in Europe, and the rate of prostate cancer in men is 96 in America and only 37 in Europe.
Tony Blair's government is all for lifting a ban on this meat for the UK, but the British consumer will have it labelled. Meanwhile, the lack of Country of Origin labelling gives us no choice. Must we wait for an inevitable increase in cancer that consumption of such meat will bring before we see common-sense precautionary action taken?
Picking up where Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring left off, the ground-breaking book by Dr Theo Colborn, Our Stolen Future, warned of the enormous dangers that hormones and their chemical mimics can have on both the human and animal population, emphasizing that, unlike most other toxins, the quantities need be immeasurably small to have devastating effects.[x] To quote Dr Colborn: “The striking lifelong difference between a pretty sister and an ugly sister stems from no more than 35 parts per trillion difference in their exposure to oestradiol and one part per billion difference in testosterone.” Would meat grown with these hormones be free of this concentration by the time it reaches your kitchen? As a scientist, I very much doubt it.
The refusal to label food is another example of trade being given preference over consumer rights. The Greens have always been looked on as the guardians of the our pantry and their recent fight to label the origin of our food should be commended. Their press release revealed a secret agenda was in place before this Bill was presented.[xi] Virtually all Western countries have mandatory labelling of all GE ingredients in food and mandatory country-of-origin labelling. It is unconscionable that New Zealanders are refused this basic right.
By not labelling our food we may be exposing ourselves and the well-being of our children to a grave legacy. It seems we learnt nothing from the environmental and health dangers of DDT and PCBs. Does the government condone the presence of chemicals, hormones, BSE, GE, etc., in our food by denying us the right to chose what we eat? Current food labelling laws are seen as inadequate by many.
There is, however, light dancing at the end of this tunnel. As consumers, we have an awesome power. We can demand that our supermarkets and shops tell us where the produce/product is coming from. If they can’t, we don’t buy it. Read labels, write letters and ask questions.
Before you heave a sigh at thissuggestion, just recall the Quality Bakers incident over using GE ingredients. Women refused to buy the company’s bread unless it sourced non-GE ingredients and it took a matter days for the company to bow to demand. Let’s face it, what do you do with thousands of loaves not sold. Recall also the coffee fiasco in the 1970s. Coffee growers were getting less for the coffee crop than it cost them to produce it. People stopped buying coffee and the middle men were left with stockpiles.
With the prospect of Peak Oil approaching, the Free Trade agenda takes on a whole new meaning. There will come a time when we will not be able to buy our underpants from China, our beef from Europe, or apples, plums or grapes from California. New Zealand has to reject cheap, imported food - often grown on huge corporate farms - in order to protect the livelihood of our own farmers and other producers, and the integrity of rural communities. The loss of oil will ensure that we have to become a nation able to assert its right to be agriculturally self-sufficient. Let’s go for it!
Recommended reading: Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser; Our Stolen Future: by Dr Theo Colborn Plume Publishing
Robert Anderson BSc (Hons), PhD (4 February 1942 to 5 December 2008)
Robert Anderson was a Trustee of Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics (now Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility) www.psgr.org.nz. He authored The Final Pollution: Genetic Apocalypse, Exploding the Myth of Genetic Engineering and several other publications on environmental, health and social justice issues.
View Robert Anderson’s lectures on this site.
Address enquiries for Robert Anderson's publications to naturesstar@xtra.co.nz.

For further information see:

GE Free New Zealand in food and environment www.gefree.org.nz/

GE Free Northland in food and environment http://web.gefreenorthland.org.nz/

Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility www.psgr.org.nz

Sustainability Council of New Zealand http://www.sustainabilitynz.org/

The Soil & Health Association / Organic New Zealand http://organicnz.org.nz/



[i] Most Americans have eaten genetically modified foods without knowing it, but are they safe? Dr Michael Smith, http://krafty.org/articles/are_genetically_modified.html
[ii] “Genetically Engineered Crops May Produce Herbicide Inside Our Intestines” www.organicconsumers.org/2006/article_637.cfm
[v] Ricketts, M., World levels of BSE pose a grave concern to public health. Mad Cow Disease and vCJD CBC Radio Transcripts
[vi] Prion Disease: “UN says BSE may have spread to worldwide.” www.mad-cow.org/00/dec00_31_news.html
[vii] “Alarm over beef link to breast cancer” Daily Mail 2nd July 2006 www.dailymail.co.uk
[viii] Lise Aksglaede, Anders Juul, Henrik Leffers, Niels E. Skakkebæk and Anna-Maria Andersson “The sensitivity of the child to sex steroids: possible impact of exogenous estrogens” http://humupd.oxfordjournals.org
[ix] “Cancer scare over US beef” BBC on line. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/334874.stm
[x] One or two parts per trillion. This quantity is bearing on the immeasurable.
[xi] “Cabinet paper reveals secret decision” Documents released under the Official Information Act to the Green Party reveal that the Government made a decision to veto mandatory country of origin labelling of food in secret, without any debate in Parliament or consultation with any parties in the House. The government last year unilaterally pulled out of a joint food standard with Australia that would have required New Zealand to introduce mandatory country of origin labelling of food. Kedgley S., www.greens.org.nz/searchdocs/PR9941.html