We need to talk about genetic modification, former Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman says.
Sir Peter Gluckman says the debate over whether to use genetically edited grasses to combat greenhouse gas emissions is more philosophical than scientific.
It’s also more emotional and political than rational.
The former Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister spoke to The Country’s Jamie Mackay about his report released this week in which he suggests New Zealand needs to have a “national conversation,” about using GMOs in agriculture.
“What I’ve raised in the report is just that if we’re serious about climate change, if we’re serious about environmental protection, if we’re serious about a reduction in predators and protecting biodiversity, we perhaps need to think again about whether the technologies which are increasingly being used offshore have got a role to play in New Zealand.” . .
There are widespread calls for farmers to play their part in reducing emissions but many of those agitating for that are also opposed to allowing GM.
It is a tool widely used in other countries that is being denied to New Zealand farmers.
Mackay wonders if consumers will want to eat products from animals that have grazed on genetically modified grass, but Gluckman says this is already happening.
“Around the world consumers are eating lots of meat and lots of milk that are coming from genetically modified crops now … it’s been going on at least for a decade broadly around the world.”
It’s also in a lot of the food we’ve been eating for years. Most corn and soy that we import will have come from GM crops.
Gluckman says the issue is more “philosophical rather than a scientific debate” with a number of countries ruling that gene editing does not need the same regulatory controls as gene modification, but “other countries are not so certain.”
Gluckman believes there needs to be a discussion around the use of GM grasses before New Zealand begins testing them.
“I think that in theory it’s possible in New Zealand. It’s just that in practice it’s not possible and I think one would need a much broader national conversation to look through the issues which are largely more philosophical and values-based than they are scientifically based.”
We saw huge areas of corn when we were in Colorado and Nebraska on an IrrigationNZ tour 10 days ago.
All of it was genetically modified.
Farmers there have been producing GM crops for years with no problems in the field or in the market.
They told us it had both economic and environmental benefits. It yielded better and required fewer chemicals to grow.
AgResearch is trialing GM grass in the USA because it can’t do it here. The grass has the potential to make a significant reduction to methane emissions.
Opponents of the technology say it could risk our reputation for producing clean and green feed.
Surely the risk our competitors will be gaining the benefits of GM grass and marketing their meat as cleaner and greener is even greater.
Science is rarely 100% settled. But after decades of use in many countries there has been no evidence of any problems with GM that would put our farming at risk, and plenty of evidence of the benefits.
New Zealand needs to start talking about GM and the conversation must be based on science and facts, not emotion and philosophy.