Science when it suits

Anyone who dares to challenge the politically accepted view on climate change  is told to accept the science.

But  during Question Time last week, Climate Change Minister James Shaw, showed again he is prepared to accept only the science that suits:

. . . Todd Muller: Does he stand by his statement made on 4 March during an interview on Q+A that when it comes to the application of GE technology in New Zealand, he—and I quote—”will be led by the science on it.”?


Todd Muller: Does he agree with the former Prime Minister’s chief scientist, Sir Peter Gluckman, who said—and I quote—”I’ll go as far as to say that I cannot see a way that agriculture in New Zealand will be sustainable over the long run in the face of environmental change and consumer preferences without using gene editing.”?


Todd Muller: Does he agree with the then Prime Minister’s chief scientist, Sir Peter Gluckman, who also said at the time—and I quote—”There is no way that we will get a reduction in methane production, and I can see no way that we will see an economic advantage for farmers as we shift to more plant-based foods, without using gene editing.”?


Todd Muller: When he said he would be—and I quote—”led by the science”, did he mean all science or just the science that fits his political narrative?

Hon JAMES SHAW: If the member looks at the previous supplementary questions, he’ll see that what Sir Peter Gluckman was saying is that he didn’t see any other ways than GE to achieve those outcomes. I do see other ways.

Todd Muller: What are the other ways of addressing agriculture emission reduction that he thinks the chief scientist has not captured in his assessment?

Hon JAMES SHAW: I can’t comment on what the former Chief Science Advisor included in his assessment, but if the member’s interested, I would advise him to read the report of the Biological Emissions Reference Group that the previous Government set up. It took a number of years looking at a range of options for how agricultural emissions could be reduced and found that, actually, with a high degree of confidence, agriculture would be able to reduce emissions by at least 10 percent by 2030, and found with a similarly high degree of confidence that it would be able to reduce it by at least 30 percent by 2050.

Todd Muller: A final supplementary: does he consider climate change to be a sufficiently serious global issue that all science and innovations, including GE, need to be considered, or does he just think it is a pick and choose menu?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Well, I think that policy makers always have options in front of them about what choices to make, but I certainly do believe that climate change is not just the greatest challenge of our time but, potentially, the greatest challenge of all time. . .

If he wants us to accept that climate change is such a challenge and take the need for action seriously, how can he shut the door on technology that could address at least some of the contributors?

Federated Farmers correctly points out his closed mind is unhelpful:

The Green Party’s apparent unwillingness to even have a discussion on the potential of genetic engineering to provide solutions to some of our most pressing environmental issues is extremely disappointing, Federated Farmers says.

“Terse answers from Climate Change Minister James Shaw to Parliamentary questions this week indicate the Greens find the GE topic too hot to handle. But discussions on pragmatic and science-based policies should not be held to ransom by merely trying to keep a vocal section of your political party’s membership happy,” Federated Farmers climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.

There have been plenty of media reports about a ryegrass developed by NZ AgResearch using gene editing. It can substantially reduce methane emissions from cattle which eat it. Under our current laws the grass cannot be grown in New Zealand, and field trials are having to take place in the United States. . . 

“Mr Shaw didn’t have to agree with Sir Peter Gluckman but we do hope he won’t be so quick to shut down discussion of GE’s potential in talks with groups such as Federated Farmers and others,” Andrew says.

“We’ve already had Green MP and Conservation Minister  tell Predator-free NZ not to pursue the option of GE technologies as an answer to eradication of possums, rats and other pests.

“Farmers are being called on to make deep cuts in emissions from their livestock. Just about the only way were going to be able to do that, without crippling the viability of many farms, are breakthrough technologies still being worked on.

“Federated Farmers’ position is that we should at least be open to the potential of GE, and we need to continue scientific and field research on its advantages and disadvantages, at the same time as having an open-minded and rational debate with all New Zealanders.”

James Shaw is playing to his political supporters and putting their opposition to GE, which is based far more on emotion than science, ahead of his ministerial responsibility.

In doing so he is denying New Zealanders tools which could reduce greenhouse gases and increase the pace of the journey towards a predator-free country, both of which ought to appeal to those of a green persuasion, but sadly not enough who are Greens.

It’s a pity they and the Minister, can’t, or won’t, accept the science that shows the very low risks and high potential benefits of GE.

5 Responses to Science when it suits

  1. Ben Waimata says:

    I think ‘science’ should not be the primary issue when it comes to GMOs. Marketing is much more important for NZ. My contacts in the USA have convinced me that the huge organic market there is in reality primarily a GE-free market. The consumer is prepared to pay a significant premium for certified GE-free food, which is currently only organic certified. I am not aware of a single market where GE food is considered a premium product. If we go down the GE path we may find ourselves excluded from high value markets in EU and China, why would we want to do this?

    My understanding is that the US GE ryegrass trials are very disappointing, but information is very hard to come by, does anyone have up to date information?

    A few years back we had a massive payout shock in the dairy sector, partly related to an increase of production in the EU dairy production. At one stage I was working with organic dairy farmers who were receiving $12/kg/MS at a time when the conventional price was below $4. We are highly reliant on a favourable supply/demand ratio.

    Imagine what would happen if someone developed a GE wheat cultivar that doubled production per unit of water input. What I would expect is a massive increase of wheat production into lands currently too marginal, and a massive increase of global production. The world markets become flooded, prices drop through the floor, massive feedlots develop for beef and dairy production on very low feed input costs, prices and markets for NZ arable, dairy and meat products will basically disappear. The only saving grace would be to be able to market our food as GE-free… if we are just another GE producer our markets will not be able to differentiate our products.

    I find the prospect of GE food here very alarming. I hate to say it, but I think on this one issue the Green Party are right.

  2. Andrei says:

    People have been selectively breeding and hybridizing plants for six thounsand years Ben and in the process made more land available for agriculture and the variety of healthy food available for people to sustain themselves (a necessity for life to continue).

    In addition in places like New Zealand we now have food secuity so that famine is just something not on our radar

    This is not true globally of course – there is a way to go in that reagard

    We have also managed in New Zealand to provide everybody with a consistant source of fresh cleran water and are able to deal with human waste products eliminating dreadful diseases that killed millions in the past and still do in the poorer parts of the world

    To accomplish the later for everybody requires the use of energy from fossil fuels of course – a lot of work goes into building the infrastructure necessary

    It is a shame that we have mediocre beta males like James Shaw in our parliament – an exceptionally stupid man over educated with a nonsense degree and little real understanding of science who has never known hunger or hardship in all the years of his utterly banal existence.

    That silly little man is a chatterer not a doer and totally out of touch with reality

    What can we do?

    It is futile to point out that the earth’s atmosphere is actually depleted in the dreaded CO₂ , that it is only a trace compound anyway or that increased levels of CO₂ promote plant growth which is good not bad

    And the mathematics of atmospheric processes governing the Earth’s climate are way too complex for the even the finest minds to comprehend let alone silly little politicians of zero accomplishment

  3. Ben Waimata says:

    Andrei I agree entirely more CO2 is great for plant growth, and for re-greening the planet. Breeding better performing plants has been incredible for increased food security. All I am suggesting is that as a geographically remote producer we now need to position ourselves at the top of the food value chain… and at this time that is GE-free food (organic specifically but as I say I doubt there is real difference). As a farmer I would hate it if we chose GE food and it resulted in a massive reduction in farm returns, as it may well do (EU and Chinese consumers are really anti-GE). The usual response from farmers is to produce more (quantity), because we get stuck in a commodity mindset where production is the only thing valued, instead of over all profitability. I would much prefer to produce a smaller volume of high value food, than a huge quantity of the lowest value commodity food. Of course if someone finds a premium market for GE food it would be a totally different story!

  4. adamsmith1922 says:

    Reblogged this on The Inquiring Mind and commented:
    James Shaw demonstrates his closed mind

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