Dr Brockie takes up the cudgels for GM as Federated Farmers strategically withdraw

But the question is: can we eat it?

Federated Farmers issued no press release – at least, none we can find – to confirm it has withdrawn legal challenges against local authorities over the regulation of genetically modified organisms (or GMOs).

News of the decision was reported by the Sunday Star-Times: national president Katie Milne confirmed to the newspaper that the feds had pulled out of all cases they were challenging, but would “just keep assessing it” in the future.

Whether this should halt public debate of the issue – and to what extent the scientists should be constrained – is a good question.

Yes, there other more immediate issues to occupy Federated Farmers’ resources – Mycoplasma bovis and compensation for farmers whose stock is being slaughtered to halt its spread, for example.

But Fairfax science writer Bob Brockie today is calling for the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, to do for GE what he did for P and clear up the myths.

Two weeks ago, Dr Brockie observes, Sir Peter debunked the idea that traces of methamphetamine are a health hazard.

He says there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the idea.

Rather surprisingly, the government has taken the scientist’s assertion on board and is keen to right the wrongs of previous policies. Usually, scientific evidence goes in one government ear and out the other, but this time it looks as though three hundred wrongly-evicted tenants might get some sort of compensation and thousands more relieved that they won’t be thrown out of their homes.

Dr Brockie then notes Sir Peter’s persistent urging of the the government and other public agencies

” … to pay more attention to scientific evidence instead of basing policy on gut feelings, fashionable beliefs, needless fear, gossip, conspiracy theories, noisy ill-informed fanatics, and shock/horror media headlines.”

And so….

“We now look forward to the day when the science adviser similarly debunks government and public attitudes towards genetic engineering.”

Brockie references recent substantial reviews of GE by the British Royal Society, the British Medical Association and the American Academy of Science and Medicine which concluded that GE has never harmed anybody or any thing.

Indeed the societies claim that GE only does good. The world’s 28 million GE farmers have increased their crop yields by 22%, their incomes by 66%, and reduced their use of pesticides by 37%. And, for that matter, over 60 000 grateful New Zealand diabetics daily inject themselves with GE insulin with no complaints. Claims that GE is a health hazard to man and beast, or that it degrades the soil or the environment get no support from the top scientific societies

But this is not what we hear incessantly from ‘GE-Free New Zealand’ and Greenpeace. Based purely on gut instinct and misinformation, these paranoid luddites spread fear and loathing about genetic engineering. They suppose that they occupy the high moral ground on these issues but are really shouting in a benighted abyss of ignorance.

Dr Brockie concludes it is time to step up and debunk the claims of GE-Free-NZ and Greenpeace because “there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these fear-mongers”.

No scientific evidence, maybe – but under our law, it is illegal to import, develop, field test or release a genetically modified organism (without approval from the Environmental Protection Authority.

Federated Farmers wanted to test whether regional councils also should be allowed to get into the regulatory business and decide to go GMO-free in their regional plans.

The courts say they can.

As the Sunday Star-Times reports:

The courts have found local authorities have the right to set their own GMO policies under the Resource Management Act. Federated Farmers have made legal challenges against the resource management plans of several councils, including Auckland, Whangerei, the Far North and Hastings, which was the first council in New Zealand to become GMO-free in 2015.

Katie Milne told the newspaper the challenges had been a “principle thing” about the appropriateness of having both the EPA and regional councils “double dipping” on GMO regulation, questioning whether regional councils had sufficient resources to devote to those decisions and why they should “go through all the same things on whether it’s safe to have in their district when it’s already done by the government”

While Federated Farmers did not formally announce its withdrawal from the legal battle, Soil & Health was not so coy.

It issued a statement to declare

Following years of court action for a precautionary approach to genetically modified organisms (GMO), the Soil & Health Association today welcomed Federated Farmers’ decision to drop legal challenges to several local council resource management plans controlling their outdoor use.

Marion Thomson, Soil & Health National Council Member, congratulated the farming organisation “for seeing the sense in dropping further litigation, allowing Councils to get on with making GMO policies and plans that reflect the needs of regions and communities”.

“Soil & Health has held grave concerns about the potential impact of GMO land use on regions dependent on an agricultural export sector increasingly reliant on non-GMO requirements of key trading partners.

“This affects both the traditional agricultural sector and New Zealand’s growing organic sector. There are significant premiums for producers who can provide non-GMO certification. It takes hard graft and time to obtain certification, and accidental contamination of a non-GMO farm would have significant long-term economic consequences for a no GMO exporter,” says Ms Thomson.

“The New Zealand environment and our local communities should not be guinea pigs for GMO land use, and therefore we welcome the news about Federated Farmers’ back-down.

“This is about allowing regions and districts to regulate potential GMO land use in a way that protects existing agricultural sectors and reflects community preferences. Soil & Health supports farmers and communities across the country who want to keep New Zealand clean, green and GE-free and today is a huge step towards allowing our communities to do this,” says Ms Thomson.

Auckland Council, Far North District Council and Whangarei District Council all prohibit the general outdoor release of GMOs and made field trials a discretionary activity with performance standards in place, while Northland Regional Council adopted a precautionary approach in its regional policy statement.

Soil & Health, representing organic and GE-free farmers, primary producers, home gardeners and consumers across New Zealand, has long campaigned against Federated Farmers in each case.

We can expect another press statement from them after they have digested Dr Brockie’s column.

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