Saturday, 14 July 2012

Genetic Modification (GM) in New Zealand

So I’m opening this can of soup, right? Its Campbell’s Country Ladle Cafe Style simmered pumpkin, red lentil, and spinach soup, imported from Australia, and I pause to check the list of ingredients. “Is any of the stuff in this can genetically modified?” I wonder. Some ways down the ingredients list, I find “modified maize[i] starch”. Now I don’t know if that’s genetically modified maize starch or maize starch that has undergone some other form of “modification”, but according to GMO[ii]-Compass, around 80% of the US maize/corn crop is GM and some 35 million hectares of GM maize/corn is grown worldwide,[iii] so I reckon there’s a reasonably good chance that the ingredient is genetically modified.

According to the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment, “foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be sold here...if the GMO has been assessed [and approved] for food safety by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)”. Approved GM foods include 12 varieties of soybeans, 3 varieties of canola, 20 varieties of corn, 3 varieties of potato, 2 varieties of sugarbeet, 12 varieties of cotton, and one variety each of rice and lucerne. Several other applications are pending[iv].

Farmers in New Zealand, though, are not growing GM crops, and GM crop research is limited. In April of this year (2012), anti-GM activists caused an estimated NZ$400,000 worth of damage by uprooting some 375 genetically-modified herbicide-resistant pine trees in a New Zealand research trial to prevent contamination with natural pine trees through cross pollination. An article in the New Zealand Herald[v] reporting on this event also noted that only nine field trials of GM crops have been approved in New Zealand in the past ten years. Compared to those in many other countries, New Zealand farmers have shown considerable reluctance to jump on the GM bandwagon.

Consumer resistance to GM foods in our key export markets and at home, public opposition to GM crop trials, and lack of public funding for GM research are cited by the Ministry for the Environment as key reasons why New Zealand farmers have not joined much of the rest of the world in embracing GM crop technology. At this time, no fruits, vegetables, or meats grown in New Zealand are genetically modified, and no GM seeds have been approved for release into the New Zealand environment[vi]. Which does not necessarily mean, however, that the roast chicken resplendent on your Sunday dinner table wasn’t raised on imported GM corn.

[ADDED October 2012: See my new post on the use of GM animal feeds in New Zealand.]

Getting back to the soup: it’d be pretty safe to say that if you want to avoid GM ingredients in your soup, and you live in New Zealand, make it yourself with fresh Kiwi ingredients and thicken with potatoes or extra veggies rather than imported cornflour. If you live elsewhere, raid your garden. I can almost guarantee it will taste better too. I give Campbell’s pumpkin, red lentil, and spinach soup two measly stars, and one of those stars is for the Parmesan cheese I sprinkled on top.

[i] Maize and corn are basically the same thing. Sweet corn is harvested before the kernels turn hard, and although it is technically a grain, we generally cook and served it as a vegetable. Maize is allowed to dry and harden as a grain and is then ground into flour or for use as animal feed. In some parts of the world maize or corn is called mealie. Some varieties are more suited for fresh use as sweet corn while others are best grown and dried as maize.
[ii] GM—genetically modified or genetic modification; GMO—genetically modified organism


  1. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD as it is known for short, is used for the identification of genetic defects in embryos that are created using in vitro fertilization or other forms of assisted reproductive technologies.

    PGD Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis

  2. The modified starch are used for thickening the sauce and thus they are widely used in all industries. They are used as the stabilizing agent as well.


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