The Green Gospel on GM is under challenge – from Shane Jones as well as Sir Peter Gluckman

You’ve got to  hand it to  Shane  Jones.   Even  when  he is not  playing the fairy godfather role in the provinces   he  can   make the headlines.

There  he  was  on the  front page of the  NZ  Herald  last week  with  the message that  NZ  needs  to  review its genetic modification-free “gospel”.

Of  course this raises  alarm bells  among the   Green lobbies,  because  it is an article of  faith among Green  politicians  that they  “saved”  NZ  when  a  ban  was  applied  to the  application of  GM  in this country.

But Jones  reckons  if  NZ is  going to  find a  solution to meet the climate change transition, then it must apply weapons from the arsenal of science and technology.  His intervention followed the concerns raised by the government’s  Interim Climate  Change  Committee  that  laws surrounding  GM could be a  barrier to  lowering  farm emissions.

In response  to the  report, Cabinet  is to  look  at the  overall  regulatory environment, including  the genetic laws.  Jones has  been  tasked  with reporting back to his  NZ  First  colleagues  on the policy.

As he puts  it  in  his inimitable  way:

Let’s push the waka out and  find out  whether  what we are taking as  gospel is  still in  the new climate change environment the  gospel we want to  believe in”.

In Jones-speak, the  “gospel”  on GM,  an article  of  faith  for  the  Green  lobbies, is not  necessarily  the  religion  NZ  should be practising because  one of the  challenges to the billion-trees  strategy is the potential  spread of wilding pine.

 “My  forest  scientists  tell me if they had more latitude there  may be a  way with  gene editing to overcome that problem” .

Even more  forthright  in   his   advocacy of  gene editing  is  Sir Peter Gluckman,  former   chief  science  adviser  to the government, who now heads  a  multidisciplinary  think-tank at  Auckland University.

Sir Peter had another  thrash on the issue  when he  spoke to  Hort NZ’s annual conference, calling on New Zealanders to seriously debate evolving technology such as gene editing, and not leave it mired in rhetoric, and conflated with politics.

Radio NZ  reported  Sir Peter  as saying there had been centuries of change in organisms’ genetic make-up, which was speeded up with gene transplants in the 1970s.  From the start, there were strong objections to this: unwanted genes could be transferred from one species to another, genetically modified food would be unsafe to eat, playing with the genome was philosophically wrong and huge corporations would use technology to take over the food industry.

In NZ, the debate quickly became conflated with politics, and still is.Activism and extreme rhetoric reduced the quality of informed debate.”

In 2001, a Royal Commission effectively put a moratorium on genetic development.Yet that development soon surpassed the commission’s own level of technological debate.  Most notably, this involved gene editing, which altered aspects of a gene, and how it operated, without changing the gene itself.  This differed from genetic modification as considered by the commission, and could have major benefits.

Sir Peter said:

For example, in my last report as Chief Science Advisor, I suggested genetically modified grasses already developed by NZ scientists.They are not able to be field trialled here, but may be an effective way of sustaining productivity while lowering dairy cow numbers and the environmental burden of methane emissions.(They would also) avoid the need for chemical inhibitors yet to be developed or licensed, with their own issues that may well affect consumers’ attitudes.

“But without field trials in local conditions, we simply do not know how effective they might be.”

Sir Peter  sees it as essential to debate these matters fully, without hyperbolic claims on either side of the argument.

“NZ should be much more confident about its ability to engage in debates on values, irrespective of outcome.Yes, such debates are hard, but avoiding them harms ourselves as a nation.”

He went on to say matters like this could be considered by a sort of Citizens’ Assembly.  Such assemblies had been used to consider contentious matters in Ireland and involved 99 names randomly chosen from the electoral roll.  They would address a particular set of problems, with a Supreme Court judge as chair and experts giving evidence.

Sir Peter  reckons  if NZ does not periodically consider how to use or not use evolving technologies, it  runs the risk of becoming a backwater with a declining competitive position.

We must to find a way to have ongoing conversations about fast moving and evolving technologies; burying our heads in the sands of short-termism can have serious long-term costs.

So    is    the  government   ready   to move with the  science?   After all, it is listening, and acting, on the  science of  climate  change.

Is  it  not willing to use  every tool in the  scientific  arsenal to combat    what extremists argue could lead to the  extinction of   mankind?

Environment  Minister  David Parker  told  Parliament NZ’s  approach to  genetic  engineering had  remained  unchanged  because  it had benefited the economy.

“If   there was a  miracle cure for climate change brought about by a GM  crop, I’m sure any government would consider it”.

A  “miracle”  cure  is  a  high  barrier.  Perhaps  the government should  pay more attention to the   climate commission’s report which pointed  out    the significance of genetically  modified  ryegrass   developed by AgResearch  which may  potentially   reduce  both methane and  nitrous oxide  emissions  from  gracing animals.  But  the grass  is  having to be tested  in the US   and could not be used commercially in NZ  under current  laws.

Climate  Change Minister   James Shaw  has  indicated he accepts  the government  has a responsibility  to  consider   the  GM  issue,

But here’s the irony:  the  Green  Party has no plans to change  its policy.

Shaw  has  warned   anything   that endangered the  “100% pure”  brand would not be  worth  it, even if  scientifically  safe.

For  laughing out loud:   which  party has  done   more to  damage  the  “100%  pure”  brand  than the  Green Party?

It has  constantly  preached the  gospel  that  70%  of  NZ’s  waterways   are polluted,    and blamed   it on  farmers — even where   many  of  the  waterways   near   cities and  towns  are  polluted   by  wastewater   and stormwater  discharges.




One thought on “The Green Gospel on GM is under challenge – from Shane Jones as well as Sir Peter Gluckman

  1. “100% pure” is a feel-good but wildly hyperbolic advertising slogan, not a rational, science-based statement. But that’s what you get from the Greens who make the Luddites look forward-thinking.


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