Science when it suits

April 8, 2019

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.”?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Yes.

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.”?

Hon JAMES SHAW: No.

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.”?

Hon JAMES SHAW: No.

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.


How much does Minister know?

February 19, 2019

Conservation Minister Eugene Sage has ruled out genetic modification in the fight against pests:

 Predator Free 2050 aims to rid New Zealand of the most damaging introduced predators by 2050, and has a number of government agencies involved in the plan including the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

But Predator Free 2050 is forbidden from carrying out any research which could lead to the use of genetic modification or gene editing, a letter written by Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage shows.

The letter of direction to Predator Free 2050 obtained by lobby group Life Sciences Network said its primary tasks were to invest in breakthrough scientific research, but not to research into genetically modified organisms and technologies or gene editing, and to raise funds for co-investment by other (non-government) parties, in landscape scale projects and breakthrough science, excluding any science involving genetic modification.

“Gene technologies are problematic and untested and have significant risks.” . . 

This directive counters officials’ views that GE could be an alternative to 1080:

“It could be efficient and much more cost-effective method of pest control than conventional approaches.

“For potential application to replace knockdown tools such as aerial 1080, they would be most effective for short generation pests such as rodents, and less effective for longer generation pests such as stoats and possums, due to their requirement to spread over generations.” . . 

The minister’s refusal to permit sciencetific exploration is rank stupidity.

It’s also hypocritical coming from a member of the party that exhorts everyone to accept the science on climate change.

But how much does the minister know about the science when the strongest opponents of GM food know the least and think they know the most?

The most extreme opponents of genetically modified foods know the least about science but believe they know the most, researchers have found.

The findings from public surveys in the US, France and Germany suggest that rather than being a barrier to the possession of strongly held views, ignorance of the matter at hand might better be described as a fuel.

“This is part and parcel of the psychology of extremism,” said Philip Fernbach, a researcher at the University of Colorado and co-author of the 2017 book The Knowledge Illusion. “To maintain these strong counter-scientific consensus views, you kind of have to have a lack of knowledge.” . . 

Is the minister’s decision based on a lack of knowledge or just politics and emotion trumping science?

Whichever it is, a minister should not be shutting the door on scientific exploration.


Rural round-up

October 3, 2018
Government blamed for pessimism – Neal Wallace:

Growing pessimism among dairy farmers has sent confidence plunging into negative territory for the first time since early 2016. The quarterly Rabobank Rural Confidence Survey of 450 farmers reveals confidence in the agricultural economy has fallen from plus 2% in June to minus 3% in September.

Those expecting an improvement in the next 12 months fell from 26% to 20% while those expecting conditions to worsen rose slightly from 23% to 24%. . .

Farmer group aims at land best practice  – Simon Hartley:

A farmer-led initiative covering six Aparima catchments in Southland is looking at ways to improve land management practices to benefit the environment and local communities.

The Aparima Community Engagement (ACE) project, which represents six local catchment groups, has been under way since March this year, and a fortnight ago briefed Environment Minister David Parker on its aims during his visit to the area.

The type of issues being tackled includes identifying best practice around the likes of buffer zones for wintering, and the use of crops and fertiliser. . . 

McDonald’s lauds Maori beef farm  – Hugh Stringleman:

Hapū-owned Whangara Farms, on the East Coast north of Gisborne, has been accredited to the McDonald’s Flagship Farmers programme, the first such appointment in the Southern Hemisphere. Under general manager Richard Scholefield for the past 12 years, the 8500ha group has become the 28th Flagship Farmer for the worldwide restaurant chain and the seventh beef supplier. . .

Hunting lobby wins concessions over tahr cull  – Kate Gudsell, Eric Fryberg:

The powerful hunting lobby has won concessions in the heated fight over the cull of thousands of Himalayan Tahr.

A meeting was held yesterday between Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage and hunting groups including the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association and the Game Animal Council as well as conservation groups such as Forest and Bird, and iwi Ngāi Tahu with the hunting industry emerging confident at the outcome.

The hunting fraternity say Ms Sage has pulled back from positions which the industry had found unacceptable and forced her to re-think plans to cull 10,000 Himalayan Tahr from the Southern Alps.  . .

Seeka warns of possible PSA outbreak in Victorian orchard – Gavin Evans:

(BusinessDesk) – Seeka, New Zealand’s biggest kiwifruit grower, says it may have found the fruit disease PSA in an orchard it is developing in Australia.

It has notified Agriculture Victoria of unusual bacterial symptoms and is removing suspicious plant material pending further test results. . .

Pāmu releases first Integrated Report – returns to paying a dividend

Pāmu Farms of New Zealand (Landcorp) has released its first truly integrated Annual Report for 2018 today.

Chief Financial Officer Steve McJorrow said the 2018 EBITDAR[1] of $48.5 million, announced on 31 August, was very pleasing, and reflected good milk and red meat returns, along with revaluation of carbon holdings (NZUs).

“We are also pleased to be back to paying our shareholders a dividend, which will be $5 million for the 2017/18 financial year. . .

Dairy Hub farm reserach to be revealed at field day:  – Yvonne O’Hara:

Kale versus fodder beet, phosphorous supplementation and buffer widths will be the focus of the Southern dairy hub’s next field day at Makarewa on October 10.

DairyNZ senior scientist Dawn Dalley said they would be updating those attending about the early results of the studies being carried out on site.

Farm manager Shane Griffin will be talking about the hub farm’s progress and Dr Ross Monaghan, of AgResearch, will discuss results of the nitrogen leaching study.

Dairy apprenticeship programme celebrates first birthday:

Federated Farmers is wishing happy birthday today to the Federated Farmers Apprenticeship Dairy Programme on its first anniversary.

The pilot programme supported by MBIE, the PrimaryITO and Feds, was launched last year with the intention of finding more Kiwis keen to work in the dairy industry on farm, and keen to upskill into a farming career.

After almost a year Feds is proud to say we’ve had 193 employer expressions of interest, and 98 completed farm charters, enabling employers to enter the programme along with 180 eligible apprentice expressions of interest and 62 apprentices in the programme. . .

 

Rural round-up

September 24, 2018

There is support out there for Hawke’s Bay farmers – Georgia May:

Farmers constantly deal with situations that are out of their control, heavy weather, dairy payouts and stock illness. A vulnerability that doesn’t weigh on the minds of many others.

It’s been nearly three weeks since heavy rain struck the Hawke’s Bay region where some farmers lost up to 25 per cent of their newborn lambs.

While attitudes of farmers generally remain stoic through difficult times, others have spoken out, saying that they feel forgotten about. . .

Plant shows Alliance is serious

Processing has begun at Alliance’s new $15.9 million venison plant at Lorneville in Southland.

The first deer went through the plant last Monday. 

Once operating at peak capacity the plant will employ about 60 people.

It has improved handling facilities and an enhanced configuration. 

The slaughterboard, boning room and offal area are larger than those at Alliance’s venison processing facilities at Smithfield and the company’s former Makarewa plant. . .

Comprehensive interim tax report a useful step:

The Tax Working Group’s (TWG) Interim Report provides a useful resource for how New Zealand’s tax system could be improved says Federated Farmers vice president Andrew Hoggard.

“It’s a good piece of work. The report clearly articulates and explores the issues we raised in our submission – it’s a highlight when you can see you have been heard.”

A big issue explored in the report is whether to extend New Zealand’s taxation of capital income, says Andrew. “Federated Farmers remains opposed to a significant broadening of the capital gains tax particularly if it taxes unrealised capital gains.”

“The report outlines the value of providing ‘roll-over relief’ for farms sold to the next generation and for farmers wanting to ‘trade-up’ to a bigger more expensive farm.  These were two critical issues we raised in our submission to the TWG back in April so we are pleased that it has listened to us on those points. . .

Tax Working Group findings support private land conservation:

QEII National Trust is pleased to see the Tax Working Group’s recommendations acknowledged the scope for the tax system to support, sustain and enhance land protected by QEII covenants.

QEII National Trust CEO, Mike Jebson says “our covenantors know the value of investing in protected private land and we are pleased to see the Tax Working Group include suggestions that costs incurred in looking after land protected by QEII covenant should be treated as deductible expenses for tax purposes in their interim conclusions.” . .

UK farmers have edge on Kiwis – Jack Keeys:

Over the past 12 months I’ve visited numerous farms and agricultural companies throughout Britain. 

That insight provided an opportunity to observe New Zealand agriculture from an outside perspective and get a clear comparison with those on the other side of the world. 

Driving through Scotland, Ireland, Wales and now England I see the farms here exhibit a large variation in size, topography, climatic conditions and pasture management. 

However, some broad commonalities become very apparent.

The farms have insufficient infrastructure, they are under-stocked and have very inefficient pasture management.

Most farms require subsidies s to be profitable.  . .

Hunters under attack again:

Hunters all over new Zealand feel like they under an intense attack from the Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage who has let her personal hatred of wild animals cloud her judgement.

“This mass killing of up to 25,000 Himalayan Tahr is unprecedented in this country and about one million kilos of meat will be left to rot on the mountains of New Zealand. The stench and pollution of headwater streams will be on the Minister’s head. This is our food basket on which many families rely on.” says Alan Simmons President of The NZ Outdoors Party. . .


Rural round-up

September 22, 2018

Changes on the farm are improving water efficiency:

A water tax isn’t workable – but changes on the farm are improving water efficiency

IrrigationNZ says that introducing a nationwide water tax is not workable, and that allowing irrigators to continue to invest in more modern irrigation systems rather than taxing them will result in the biggest improvements in water use efficiency.

“A water tax has been considered in other countries internationally but in every case it has been abandoned. Other countries have found it too complex and expensive to design a fair water tax which can be easily implemented without resulting in adverse outcomes,” says IrrigationNZ Chief Executive Andrew Curtis. . .

1080 drop to go ahead after failed legal bid :

A conservation group has failed in its legal bid to stop a 1080 drop in the Hunua Ranges near Auckland.

The Friends of Sherwood Trust won a temporary injunction in the Environment Court halting the major pest control programme two weeks ago.

It argued that the drop breached the Resource Management Act which prohibits the dropping of substances in beds of lakes and rivers.

However today the court refused the Trust’s bid to further halt the drop.

“We are not persuaded that there is likely to be serious harm to the environment if the proposed application proceeds.” . .

Plans for huge tahr cull upset Otago hunters – Simon Hartley:

A sweeping cull of at least 17,500 Himalayan mountain tahr proposed by the Minister of Conservation, Eugenie Sage, has outraged some recreational hunters in Otago.

Ms Sage’s sudden announcement of the high killing ratio may yet be challenged in court.

Killing of the tahr, which are related to goats and were introduced here in 1904, is to start within two weeks.

Ms Sage is proposing the Department of Conservation kill 10,000 animals in various areas in the Southern Alps over the next eight months because the animal’s estimated 35,000 population was “three times” that permitted by the long established Himalayan Tahr Control Plan. . .

Meat firms need more staff – Chris Tobin:

South Canterbury meat companies are so desperate for workers to start the new killing season they are recruiting overseas.

Immigration NZ has approved work visas for 24 migrant employees to work at Alliance Smithfield this season.

Figures released to The Courier by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) show Immigration NZ has also allowed Silver Fern Farms to employ 49 overseas workers in Canterbury, although the information did not specify what the break-down figures between the company’s two plants at Pareora and Belfast, Christchurch, were.

Work visas for 18 overseas workers for Anzco Foods at Ashburton have also been approved. . .

New Everyday FarmIQ pack targets mainstream dairy and livestock farmers.

A new range of software subscriptions from FarmIQ address the growing information needs of New Zealand dairy and livestock industry.

With a clear focus on the information needs of dairy and livestock farmers, the new packs will help mainstream New Zealand farmers run more productive and sustainable operations.

Darryn Pegram, FarmIQ Chief Executive Officer, said subscriptions start at $55 a month for the new “Everyday FarmIQ” software pack, delivering a broad suite of recording and reporting tools. . .

 ‘High-yield’ farming costs the environment less than previously thought – and could help spare habitats -“

New findings suggest that more intensive agriculture might be the “least bad” option for feeding the world while saving its species – provided use of such “land-efficient” systems prevents further conversion of wilderness to farmland.

Agriculture that appears to be more eco-friendly but uses more land may actually have greater environmental costs per unit of food than “high-yield” farming that uses less land, a new study has found.

There is mounting evidence that the best way to meet rising food demand while conserving biodiversity is to wring as much food as sustainably possible from the land we do farm, so that more natural habitats can be “spared the plough”. . . .


Waste tax tackles wrong end of problem

August 21, 2018

The Green Party wants to increase taxes on waste at landfills.

. . There have been calls to increase the $10 a tonne levy, which applies to only around 11 per cent of waste disposal facilities, to as much as $140 a tonne. The levy in New South Wales for example is more than $A120 a tonne. Sage would not say what she would like to see the levy go up to, saying she wanted to see what the Ministry for the Environment work produced. . . 

This is yet another policy that is long on emotion and short on science.

Reduce, reuse and recycle is the environmental mantra.

Reducing waste in the first place would be a much better strategy than either recycling or higher taxes for disposing of it.

Recycling isn’t necessarily a greener option and higher landfill levies would provide an incentive for illegal dumping which would pose far greater environmental problems than disposal in landfills.

A tax would be tackling the wrong end of the waste problem, potentially increasing greenhouse gases and diverting rubbish from landfills without reducing it.


Principles pay price of power

July 27, 2018

The Green Party has paid for power with the loss of its principles in supporting the waka jumping legislation.

. . .Labour promised to support the waka jumping legislation in its coalition agreement with NZ First, but the legislation is not covered in its agreement with the Green Party.

However, a clause in the agreement seemingly holds the Greens to supporting any legislation not specifically flagged in the coalition talks, meaning the Greens MPs feel they have to vote for the waka jumping bill. . .

Have they voted for every piece of government legislation so far and will they continue to do so?

Didn’t they vote against the CPTTP? If they could stick to their principles then, when they were in the wrong, why not now when they’d be in the right?

It’s understood that the Green negotiators were asked to produce a list of potential NZ First legislation they could not agree with during coalition talks, and did not think to include Waka Jumping as it had been so long since the law had been an issue.

That was at best naive.

Former Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, who was part of the negotiating team, said earlier this year the agreement did not in fact force the Greens into supporting the bill.

Then why are they doing it?

Green MP Eugenie Sage said “we don’t like it” but it was “very important” to one of the coalition parties.

“It is a dead rat they we have to swallow,” Sage said.

The Greens have long opposed such legislation. . .

Proponents argue that it maintains the proportionality of Parliament while opponents say it stifles democracy.

If maintaining proportionality was so important, National would have got another list MP when Peters won the seat of Northland. Instead of which NZ First got another MP.

National MP Nick Smith said the Greens had “sold their soul” and were “trashing their core values.”

“We’ve never before had a party saying it opposed a bill – leat alone a bill that makes changes to our electoral law and constitution where they are oppose to it but are going to vote it anyway.

“This is the Green Party selling its soul for power,” Smith said.

“They are the last party I would expect to do this.”

He goes further in a media release:

Government changes to New Zealand MMP electoral law enabling a party leader to dismiss an MP would break the constitutional law Allied Powers put in place following the end of the Second World War, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.

“The Government cannot justify this draconian law change on the basis of MMP. Germany has had MMP for over 70 years and has no such provisions. In fact, the Human Rights Commission has drawn to Parliament’s attention that it would be ironic and wrong for New Zealand to have insisted on specific democratic protections in Germany, but to be breaching those protections at home,” Dr Smith says.

It is not just Germany that has constitutional protections for MPs’ free speech. The European Court has over-ridden similar laws like those being proposed for New Zealand as undemocratic. The Supreme Court in Papua New Guinea struck down similar laws there in 2010.

New Zealand is putting itself in the company of totalitarian states like Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Sierra Leone with these electoral law changes.

That isn’t company any country, government or party that stands up for democratic rights would want to be in.

In these countries, Members of Parliament have been dismissed for challenging corruption in their own Government, for participating in a press conference without their leaders consent and for voting in Parliament differently to how their leaders instructed them. The Government is opening up the risk of this happening in New Zealand.

“New Zealanders should be deeply concerned that changes are being made to our electoral law that would be illegal and unconstitutional in most parts of the world. At a time when autocratic rulers are on the rise, New Zealand should be strengthening and not weakening our protections for democracy and free speech.

“This draconian bill that the Government accepts will have a ‘chilling effect on the expression of dissenting views by MPs’ must be abandoned.”

The select committee received submission after submission from legal experts, academics and a broad cross-section of people concerned for this assault on democracy.

And all because New Zealand First’s leader Winston Peters is so insecure and distrustful of his caucus.

Labour swallowed the dead rat in coalition negotiations. Green Party MPs are facing up to swallowing it now so the legislation will go through.

Their members won’t be happy but they are the ones who wouldn’t have countenanced the party going with National.

Had they agreed to a blue-green government they would have got several conservation gains, including the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

Instead of which they’re watching their MPs dine on a large dead rat and wondering what other principles they might sacrifice as the price of power.


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