Rural round-up

October 4, 2018

NZ’s pig-headed rejection of GM is putting our agricultural future at risk – Andrew Allan:

Ignorance of the facts of genetic modification poses an economic risk to New Zealand, writes a professor of plant biology.

There is a new agricultural-based green revolution beginning around the world, and it’s a technique you’ve probably heard of before: gene editing. New types of rice, wheat, tomato, maize, soybean and other crops created through the CRISPR-Cas9 technology are already growing in fields in America and beyond. These enhanced products include wheat with a 30% increase in grain weight and tomatoes with a 5-fold increase in vitamin A levels. The issue however is that these crops rely on ‘directed’ changes to DNA, which we categorise as ‘genetic modification’ (GM) under NZ law. This is despite the fact that the changes made are exactly the same as that created by sunlight, and a lot less than that from traditional breeding. This categorisation makes it near-impossible for our country to join this green revolution. Worse still, the value we currently gain from our plant-based economy is under threat from far better crops being developed quickly around the world. . .

Sheep and beef farmers bullish about the future but watchful of challenging headwinds:

More than two thirds of sheep and beef farmers are positive about the future of the industry, according to research by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ).

Sixty-eight per cent of sheep and beef farmers surveyed in the August 2018 quarter are confident – the highest level since B+LNZ’s first launched the research in November 2010.

Sheep and beef farmers’ positive mood contrasts with gloomy headlines on business confidence elsewhere in the economy, as well as recent inaccurate claims made by the Productivity Commission about the “marginal” nature of the sector. . .

Using images to misinform – Alison Campbell:

The internet, while it can be a godsend if you need to find something out (gotta love google maps for directions), can also be a wretched hive of wrongness and misinformation.

That misinformation can take many forms, but when it comes to 1080 it’s clear that those opposed to NZ’s use of this chemical firmly believe that a picture is worth a thousand words. Any picture.

Thank goodness for the ‘reverse image search’ function in Google. For example, on the Facebook page for the group New Zealands not clean green, in amongst photos of animals that may or may not have been killed by 1080, we find several of animals that weren’t. For example: . .

More farmers turn to DNA parentage testing to improve productivity:

This spring, upwards of 250,000 calves from around the country will have their parentage confirmed by LIC’s DNA parentage service which operates from its laboratory in Hamilton. So far this year, the co-operative has had on average one new herd a day sign up to its DNA parentage service.

LIC’s General Manager of NZ Markets, Malcolm Ellis, says the increased demand reflects the industry’s new reality of “peak cow”. . .

Wrightson Seeds suitor DLF cites research capability, export growth –  Gavin Evans:

(BusinessDesk) – Danish producer DLF Seeds says its research capability makes it a strong potential acquirer of PGG Wrightson’s grains and seeds business. The firm is seeking clearance from the Commerce Commission for the $421 million purchase announced in August. . .

Silver Fern Farms Announce Winners of Plate to Pasture Youth Scholarships 2018:

Six inspirational young people from around New Zealand have been named as the Silver Fern Farms Plate to Pasture Youth Scholarships recipients for 2018. Each winner received $5000 to further their careers in the red meat sector. Silver Fern Farms Chief Executive Simon Limmer says he is delighted to see the passion young New Zealanders have shown for the red meat industry through the applications submitted to the annual scholarship programme.

   

Rural round-up

July 18, 2018

Super grass offers huge benefits – and it’s green! Pity about the GM … – Point of Order:

Environmentalists should be encouraging NZ’s development of ryegrass with the potential to substantially increase farm production, reduce water demand and decrease methane emissions.

We are told the grass has been shown in AgResearch’s Palmerston North laboratories to grow up to 50 per cent faster than conventional ryegrass, to be able to store more energy for better animal growth, to be more resistant to drought, and to produce up to 23 per cent less methane (the largest single contributor to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions) from livestock. . .

Dig deep for sheep – Annette Scott:

Confidence in sheep is at an all-time high with demand at the Temuka in-lamb ewe fair providing the real proof of industry positivity.

With record processing prices for mutton the sale was always going to be the real test for the market, PGG Wrightson livestock manager Joe Higgins said.

With just 6000 ewes offered and close to 100 registered buyers it was a sellers’ market with clearly not enough sheep to go around. . .

Wool Summit leads to greater direction:

Key players in New Zealand’s wool industry are to form a new coordinating group to better tell wool’s story, says Federated Farmers.

At this week’s Wool Summit in Wellington there was a real sense of urgency to get cooperation and momentum, says Miles Anderson, Federated Farmers Meat & Wool Industry Group Chairperson.

New Zealand wool producers have been under pressure, particularly in the last two years as prices for strong wool hit record lows. . .

Eradicating cattle disease M. bovis may be costly, even impossible, but we must try – Richard Laven:

In May this year, the New Zealand government decided that it would attempt to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis, a bacterial disease that affects cattle.

A phased eradication means that an additional 126,000 livestock will need to be culled, at an estimated cost of NZ$886 million.

Here’s what we know, what we don’t know and what’s at stake. . .

Works not an out for sick stock – TIm Fulton:

Stock transport is high on the animal welfare agenda as new regulations come into force.

Inspectors will be especially alert to badly lame stock being carted to meatworks, Ministry for Primary Industries compliance team manager Peter Hyde told a Beef + Lamb New Zealand meeting in North Canterbury. 

“Using the meat companies to sort out your lameness issues is not acceptable,” he said. . .

 

Kiwifruit expected to remain king of horticulture export industry – Julie Iles:

Kiwifruit exports, valued at $1.86 billion, remains New Zealand’s most valuable horticulture export. 

It’s closely followed by the value of wine exports, at $1.72b, though they were less than half the value of the kiwifruit exports in 2004. 

The latest forecasts by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) predict the kiwifruit export industry will grow in value at a slightly faster pace than the wine industry over the next four years.  . .

Farmlands joins Apple and Emerites in KPMG Award

Farmlands Cooperative has been named the New Zealand winner of KPMG’s prestigious Global Customer Experience Excellence (CEE) Award.

New Zealand’s largest rural supplies and services cooperative was presented with the award at a ceremony hosted by KPMG in Auckland this morning.

Farmlands joins 13 other winners of the award world-wide, including Singapore Airlines (Australia), Apple Store (Italy), Alipay (China) and Emirates (UAE). Following Farmlands in the top five for New Zealand were Air New Zealand, Kiwibank, New World and ASB Bank. . .

America’s cheese stockpile just hit an all-time high – Caitlin Dewey:

The United States has amassed its largest stockpile of cheese in the 100 years since regulators began keeping tabs, the result of booming domestic production of milk and consumers’ waning interest in the dairy beverage.

The 1.39 billion-pound stockpile, tallied by the Agriculture Department last week, represents a 6 percent increase over this time last year and a 16 percent increase since an earlier surplus prompted a federal cheese buy-up in 2016. . .

 


Rural round-up

October 8, 2015

Key sectors welcome TPP – Colin Bettles:

SUGAR may have been served a bitter-sweet outcome in the final Trans-Pacific Partnership but other key Australian commodities like beef, grains, dairy and cotton have tasted some success.

The Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) said the TPP deal – signed overnight by Federal Trade Minister Andrew Robb – would provide significant increased market opportunities for Australian grassfed beef producers, when it comes into force.

Game changer for beef

CCA president Howard Smith said the agreement signifies a game changing opportunity for the Australian beef industry which sees a positive future fort itself, in export markets. . . 

Rolleston wants GM use debate – Richard Rennie:

Councils’ efforts to ban genetically modified crops have Federated Farmers banging up against public opinion in some rural districts.

But federation president Dr William Rolleston argues the move to ban GM crops threatens farmers’ ability to innovate and is a choice they might lose through misinformation and misunderstandings about what the science is really about.

The federation’s case against council bans on GM use got a severe bruising when they lost on appeal to the Environment Court earlier this year. . . 

Milk price expected to hit $3000/t this year – Jemma Brackebush:

Banks and analysts are predicting international dairy prices will continue to rise, and a lift in Fonterra’s forecast payout looks likely.

Prices in the global dairy trade auction rose for the fourth consecutive time on Tuesday night.

The price for the key commodity, whole milk powder, which underpins the price Fonterra pays its farmers, increased by 12.9 percent to $US2,824 a tonne. . . 

Record jail sentence for animal abuser Michael Whitelock:

A dairy worker has been handed what is believed to be New Zealand’s longest-ever prison sentence for animal cruelty, after cows were beaten, had their tails broken and were shot in the kneecaps on a farm he managed.

Michael James Whitelock was sentenced in the Greymouth District Court on Wednesday to four and a half years jail and banned from owning animals for 10 years.

He had earlier pleaded guilty to 12 charges, including ill treatment of animals, unlawful possession of firearms and attempting to pervert the course of justice. . . 

Farmer suicides up – Jemma Brackebush:

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show 27 men in farming communities committed suicide in the past year ended June.

The chief coroner Deborah Marshall released annual provisional suicide statistics on Tuesday, which showed 564 people died by suicide in the past year, up 35 on the previous year and the highest number since records began eight years ago.

Male suicides rose from 385 last year to 428, and female suicides dropped from 144 to 136. . . 

Banks fork out a total $25.5M over rural interest rate swaps – Fiona Rotherham:

(BusinessDesk) – The Commerce Commission has completed the distribution of $25.5 million to complainants and rural charities after reaching settlements with banks who had marketed interest rate swap products to farmers.

The commission says nearly $20 million in cash has been paid to eligible customers while $1.9 million was offset by the banks against debts some complainants owed to them. A further $2.5 million went to 14 regional Rural Support Trusts and the Dairy Women’s Network and the commission received $1 million to cover a portion of its investigation costs, including legal expenses. The bulk of the money came from the ANZ Bank New Zealand, which paid out $19.3 million in total, $3.2 million from ASB Bank and $3 million from Westpac Banking Corp. . . .

All Geared Up For The Glammies:

Entries are now open for the 2016 Golden Lamb Awards, aka the Glammies, which seeks out the tastiest and tender lamb in New Zealand.

The competition gives farmers the opportunity to enter their lamb into one of the most highly regarded competitions the industry has to offer.

The entries are then assessed by Carne Technologies in Cambridge for tenderness, yield, succulence and colour.

The scientific testing determines which top four entries from five categories will make it through to the final stage of the competition, a taste test, held at the Upper Clutha A&P show in Wanaka on 11 March 2016. . . 

New Zealand Bloodstock to Sponsor New Race in China:

New Zealand Bloodstock and the Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Industry Co. Ltd have partnered together to introduce the New Zealand Bloodstock Cup to be held in Inner Mongolia, China next year.

2015 RTR
The race is open to horses purchased by any Chinese buyer at this year’s New Zealand Bloodstock Ready to Run Sale in November. To be held in July 2016 at Korchin, Inner Mongolia, the New Zealand Bloodstock Cup is worth RMB500,000 and will be run over 1800m.

NZB’s Co-Managing Director Andrew Seabrook is excited about the formal partnership reached between NZB and Rider Horse Group. . . 

Serious savings from whole-farm soil testing:

Whole-farm soil testing saves Taranaki farmer Hayden Lawrence about $15,000 on fertiliser each year.

Hayden, who farms in equity partnership with his wife Alecia and parents in Taranaki, began whole-farm soil testing seven years ago. To date, he has reaped about $90,000 in savings and has increased pasture production from 14.5 tonnes per hectare to 18.6T/ha on the 97ha property.

The Lawrences milk a maximum of 240 cows on an 85ha milking platform, using their hill country block to graze heifers. They also follow an 18-month cropping rotation, that sees paddocks planted into silage, oats, chicory and then into pasture. . . .

RHĀNZ welcomes Government’s new rural connectivity target:

The Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand welcomes the new rural connectivity target announced by the Government today.

The target means nearly all rural New Zealanders will be able to access broadband speeds of at least 50Mbps by 2025.

RHĀNZ Chairperson, Dr Jo Scott-Jones, says securing reliable and affordable telecommunications services is critical to the health and wellbeing of rural communities and is a top priority for all 40 RHĀNZ members.

“As part of our RBI phase 2 submission to Government earlier this year, we called for more ambitious targets for rural broadband speeds, so it is really pleasing to hear Minister Adams’s announcement today,” he says. . . 

Anglers urged to vote ‘in best interests of our fishing and hunting resources’:

The country’s anglers and game bird hunters are being reminded to make sure they vote in the Fish and Game Council elections.

Fish & Game Communications Manager Don Rood says that because voting closes at 5pm on Friday (9 October), those who are eligible and haven’t voted are advised to do so online, rather put voting papers in the post.

“We urge licenceholders to take the time to vote – to exercise their right to choose the people who can best advance their local region’s hunting and fishing interests. . . 

Free entry for 2016 Games:

The second annual Hilux New Zealand Rural Games takes place in Queenstown next Waitangi weekend (Sat 6th – Sun 7th Feb) and entry won’t cost you a cent.

Two days of ‘sports that built the nation’ and live entertainment on the Recreation Ground plus the Running of the Wools – more than 400 merino sheep herding through downtown Queenstown – will be completely free to watch.

We’ve been able to waive ticket prices thanks to the generous support of our patrons and event partners including major sponsors Toyota, Fonterra, Line 7, Ngai Tahu Farming, Jetstar and Husqvarna which has increased its support from the inaugural Games.

The Running of the Wools is once again supported by our friends at clothing and gift retailer, Global Culture. . . 


Rural round-up

February 25, 2015

Dealing with drought stress – Sally Rae:

Drought affects the whole family – not just the farmer.

That is the message from a rural woman who has first hand experience of depression, following the recent declaration of drought for large swathes of the South Island.

The woman, who did not want to be named, said there would be hidden stress in partners and children, along with an impact on staff. . .

Vanuatu RSE workers grow business:

A New Zealand viticulturalist says support for workers from the Recognised Seasonal Employers scheme is reaping rewards in Vanuatu as they are now producing coconut oil on the island of Tanna.

A director of Vinepower in Blenheim, Jono Bushell, says two years ago he followed his workers who were returning home to see how they spent their earnings and saw the potential to make better use of coconuts growing on Tanna. . .

Craigieburn Station on the market – Jamie Gray:

The historic Craigieburn Station, in the central Canterbury foothills, has come up for sale for the first time in 98 years.

The station includes five lakes, several hills, peaks, valleys, dales and various rivers, including the upper reaches of the Waimakariri, which forms the property’s northern boundary, and the Cass River, which forms part of Craigieburn’s western boundary.

It has historically been used to graze and breed merino sheep and horned Hereford cattle. . .

Choice is key in GM debate –  Daniel Kruithoff:

 AGRICULTURE is once again at the forefront of the national conversation about Australia’s future prosperity. Having ridden the mining boom all the way to shore, sectors such as agriculture are being viewed as the next wave of economic growth.

Improved market access through free trade agreements will undoubtedly help drive demand for Australia’s high quality food and fibre, particularly among the booming middle class of Asia.

What is less certain though is the capacity of Australian agriculture to sustainably increase productivity fast enough to capitalise on the opportunity of becoming a food bowl for Asia. . .

 

Shear success: 10-year record tumbles – Rebecca Sharpe:

BATHURST shearer Stacey Te Huia has smashed the world record, shearing 530 Merino ewes in nine hours at Parkdale Merino stud, Dubbo, NSW, on Friday.

New Zealand-born Te Huia broke the previous record of 513, set by fellow Kiwi Dwayne Black near Kojonup, Western Australia, in 2005.

Shearing Industry Promotions committee treasurer Michael Pora said Te Huia looked flawless as he made his way through the flock.

“Te Huia did a sensational job to shear 530 sheep. Everything went right for him,” Mr Pora said. . .

Manuka Health to launch groundbreaking bioactive supplement at world’s largest natural health products show:

Manuka Health, one of New Zealand’s most succesful and fastest growing honey brands, is preparing to unveil MGO™ Manuka Honey with CycloPower™, an advanced natural bioactive supplement, at Expo West in California, the world’s largest tradeshow for the natural, organic and health products industry.

In what is a pioneering move for the Manuka Honey industry, Manuka Health is the first to have combined all natural CycloPower technology with the proven health benefits of genuine New Zealand Manuka Honey. When combined with active ingredients (such as the methylglyoxal molecules found in Manuka Honey), the naturally fibrous cyclodextrin molecules in CycloPower substantially elevate the beneficial activity of Manuka Honey, making it tens of times more potent against certain bacteria then the Manuka Honey of the same strength. MGO Manuka Honey with CycloPower is more stable, soluble and bioavailable for more efficient delivery over a longer period of time. . .

NZ Organic Wine Awards 15:

After a successful inaugural awards in 2014, The awards return for the ‘2015 NZ Organic Wine Awards’. Created to find, promote and showcase New Zealand’s best organic wines the second annual NZ Organic Wine Awards.

The ‘New Zealand Organic Wine Awards’ is a ‘exclusively organic’ wine competition. In order to be judged, wine’s must be created using 100% certified organic grapes. Vineyards may be certified by any of the following certification authorities; Biogro, Demeter, Asure Quality or Organic Farm NZ. Organic wine is a fast market growth area, with consumer demand growing exponentially. Organic Wine doesn’t just offer health benefits such as being pesticide free, and lower in sulphites; we believe using organic techniques can help to create a superior wine. . .

 


Rural round-up

April 15, 2014

GM in NZ on farming leader’s agenda – Tony Benny:

A visit to Argentina has left Federated Farmers vice-president Dr William Rolleston even more convinced New Zealand should not close the door on GM agriculture.

“I stood in a field of genetically modified soya beans, amongst hundreds of thousands of acres of genetically modified crops which they are using to have some beneficial effect on their environment but also to ramp up their production,” Rolleston said.

While his support for GM is already well known, Rolleston said he made a point of mentioning the issue in a speech at the North Canterbury branch of Federated Farm-ers’ AGM so that he couldn’t be accused of keeping his views secret should he later became Feds president.

“We need to have a sensible debate,” he said. . .

 

Dairy price ‘worm has turned’ downward – ASB  – Niko Kloetin:

Milk prices are tipped to fall again at tonight’s global dairy auction.

ASB says prices could drop another 10 per cent.

In more bad news for dairy farmers, the bank said the New Zealand dollar could remain high against the United States dollar if the American economy did not improve.

In its Farmshed Economics newsletter, ASB said “the worm has turned” on dairy prices, which are down almost 20 per cent in the past two months.

Driving prices down has been a lift in milk production, which ASB forecasts will increase by 11 per cent this season compared with last season. . .

Secrets to sharemilking success – Gerald Piddock:

James and Melissa Barbour’s strong relationship with their farm owner and staff has propelled the sharemilking couple to the top in their field.

The Waikato Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year winners credit these relationships for their success and place a lot of emphasis on maintaining them.

They 50:50 sharemilk 355 cows for Joan De Renzynts at Matamata. Both are 28 years old, and are in their seventh season and third position 50:50 sharemilking.

They take on board what De Renzy says and work as a team along with assistant Hayden Thompson. . .

Brainstorming conference expected – Yvonne O’Hara:

The possible reintroduction of an industry levy and ”the way forward” for profitability and sustainability for the goat industry will be the focus of the inaugural New Zealand Goats (NZGoats) conference in Queenstown next month.

Mohair New Zealand Inc, Meat Goat New Zealand (MGNZ), the New Zealand Boer Goat Breeders Association and NZGoats will all be holding their annual meetings during the same weekend, May 23 to 25.

NZ Goats chairwoman Dawn Sangster, of Patearoa, said those interested in feral or dairy goats or in the industry in general were also invited. . .

Last few weeks of hard prep for dairy trainee  – Yvonne O’Hara:

It is only a little more than four weeks to go before Josh Lavender, of Lochiel, is up against the nations’ other ”best of the best” dairy trainees, so he is spending as much time as he can preparing.

Mr Lavender (26) won the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards’ Southland Otago Dairy Trainee of the Year a month ago and since then has combined work as 2IC on a 752-cow property near Lochiel with catching up with study for his Production Management Level 5 through Primary ITO, preparing a DVD and speech for the nationals, and learning as much as he can about the industry. . .

Cloudy Bay’s new vintage redefines Chardonnay:

The winemaking philosophy of Cloudy Bay chardonnay revolves around a very stripped back approach. Juice in the barrel is settled for a very short time without the use of enzyme to retain a high level of solids. Following this is a long indigenous fermentation, taking place in barrel.

“These techniques work together to build complexity of flavour, but more importantly they contribute texture and architecture to the palate,” explains Tim Heath. “It takes our wine beyond simple fruit flavour. It is a wine to watch and speaks of its origin.” . . .


Rural round-up

March 21, 2013

MPI investigates GM breach:

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is investigating how a genetically modified (GM) fungus came to be used outside approved containment facilities at Lincoln University’s campus.

All samples and plant materials known to contain the modified fungus have been secured. MPI is now checking if any other materials may have been inadvertently exposed to the fungus.

“Based on what we know at present, the potential biological risks from this discovery appear very low,” says Roger Smith, MPI Deputy Director General, Verification and Services. 

“At this stage, we believe it is unlikely any potentially genetically modified Beauveria bassiana fungus has spread further. The fungus in question was found indoors in glass houses and laboratories with restricted access,” says Mr Smith. . .

Grasmere water plan request declined – Tim Fulton:

Resource consent has been declined for a plan to irrigate a high-country station in central Canterbury, on the basis it would potentially have too much impact on landscape values and water quality.

The hearing commissioner said it was one of the most difficult, finely balanced decisions he had had to make.

P&E, run by Pete Morrison and Liz Nattrass, from Darfield, wanted permission from Environment Canterbury to divert, take and use water from Cass River to irrigate pasture for sheep and beef cattle. The 35-year consent would have required disturbance to the river-bed.

The land involved was on both sides of State Highway One, just east of Arthur’s Pass. P&E owns more than 550 hectares at Lake Grasmere. . .

Leadership skills programme an ‘eye-opener’ – Sally Rae:

When Amanda Hasselman returned home to Glenorchy after attending a leadership skills programme in Wellington, she admits her brain was ”fizzing”.

Mrs Hasselman, of Temple Peak Station, was among 16 rural women who attended the course run by Rural Women New Zealand.

During the three-day programme, the group heard presentations from leaders as diverse as Fish and Game NZ chief executive Bryce Johnson and former Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast. . .

Tree lucerne planting should be widely encouraged – Alan Diak:

Present drought conditions are spreading and will remain with us for some time.

Short term, dairy production will suffer as will the welfare of cattle. Long term, sheep, beef and dairy production will be affected into next year.

There is little that can be done with this drought for animal welfare and production. However, let us look positively to the future.

I am of the opinion that the benefits of establishing tree lucerne as a fodder crop on farms to support livestock during stress periods because of feed shortages from whatever cause should be encouraged and supported by everyone. . .

A big call on imported pig meat:

With the Court of Appeal dismissing NZPork’s appeal over the Import Health Standard for imported pig meat, Federated Farmers believes this now leaves considerable uncertainty.

“We were not surprised at the outcome because the Court of Appeal case was limited to an examination of process and not science,” says Dr William Rolleston, Federated Farmers Food Production spokesperson.

“It seems inevitable raw pork will be imported from countries which have the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS). . .

Waikato Times letter of the month – Quote Unquote:

The skinny: we’ve had a drought over the whole country because farmers use PKE as a stock-feed supplement, which causes climate change. And something about chocolate. I have passed this on to my wife’s colleagues at AgResearch in Ruakura as the connection probably hadn’t occurred to them.. .


Science converts environmental activist to GM

January 21, 2013

British environmental activist Mark Lynas began his speech to the Oxford Farmers’ Conference with an apology:

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist. . .

It’s hard to argue against good science but some people don’t let it get in the way of their emotional stories.

When I first heard about Monsanto’s GM soya I knew exactly what I thought. Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us. Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.

These fears spread like wildfire, and within a few years GM was essentially banned in Europe, and our worries were exported by NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, where GM is still banned today. This was the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with.

This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it. . . .

He isn’t the first former insider to criticise the anti-science approach by some environmental groups.

For me this anti-science environmentalism became increasingly inconsistent with my pro-science environmentalism with regard to climate change. . .

I found myself arguing constantly with people who I considered to be incorrigibly anti-science, because they wouldn’t listen to the climatologists and denied the scientific reality of climate change. So I lectured them about the value of peer-review, about the importance of scientific consensus and how the only facts that mattered were the ones published in the most distinguished scholarly journals. . .

And yet, incredibly, at this time in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science even at this late stage.

Obviously this contradiction was untenable. What really threw me were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian article. In particular one critic said to me: so you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?

So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.

I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow. . .

He then goes on to talk about the population growth, increasing GDP in developing countries, the need to produce more food and the environmental challenges from that.

But as a result of this growth we have very serious environmental challenges to tackle. Land conversion is a large source of greenhouse gases, and perhaps the greatest source of biodiversity loss. This is another reason why intensification is essential – we have to grow more on limited land in order to save the rainforests and remaining natural habitats from the plough.

We also have to deal with limited water – not just depleting aquifers but also droughts that are expected to strike with increasing intensity in the agricultural heartlands of continents thanks to climate change. If we take more water from rivers we accelerate biodiversity loss in these fragile habitats.

We also need to better manage nitrogen use: artificial fertiliser is essential to feed humanity, but its inefficient use means dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and many coastal areas around the world, as well as eutrophication in fresh water ecosystems. . .

He says the solution is technological innovation, moving rapidly and in the right direction for those who need it most.

 . . . So what did Norman Borlaug do? He turned to science and technology. Humans are a tool-making species – from clothes to ploughs, technology is primarily what distinguishes us from other apes. And much of this work was focused on the genome of major domesticated crops – if wheat, for example, could be shorter and put more effort into seed-making rather than stalks, then yields would improve and grain loss due to lodging would be minimised.

Before Borlaug died in 2009 he spent many years campaigning against those who for political and ideological reasons oppose modern innovation in agriculture. To quote: “If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years.”

And, thanks to supposedly environmental campaigns spread from affluent countries, we are perilously close to this position now. Biotechnology has not been stopped, but it has been made prohibitively expensive to all but the very biggest corporations.

It now costs tens of millions to get a crop through the regulatory systems in different countries. In fact the latest figures I’ve just seen from CropLife suggest it costs $139 million to move from discovering a new crop trait to full commercialisation, so open-source or public sector biotech really does not stand a chance.

There is a depressing irony here that the anti-biotech campaigners complain about GM crops only being marketed by big corporations when this is a situation they have done more than anyone to help bring about. . . .

He gives examples of how the bureaucratic burden is increasing in around the world then says:

. . . We well-fed consumers are blinded by romantic nostalgia for the traditional farming of the past. Because we have enough to eat, we can afford to indulge our aesthetic illusions.

But at the same time the growth of yields worldwide has stagnated for many major food crops, as research published only last month by Jonathan Foley and others in the journal Nature Communications showed. If we don’t get yield growth back on track we are indeed going to have trouble keeping up with population growth and resulting demand, and prices will rise as well as more land being converted from nature to agriculture.

To quote Norman Borlaug again: “I now say that the world has the technology — either available or well advanced in the research pipeline — to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology? While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt ultra low-risk positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called ‘organic’ methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low income, food-deficit nations cannot.”

As Borlaug was saying, perhaps the most pernicious myth of all is that organic production is better, either for people or the environment. The idea that it is healthier has been repeatedly disproved in the scientific literature. We also know from many studies that organic is much less productive, with up to 40-50% lower yields in terms of land area. The Soil Association went to great lengths in a recent report on feeding the world with organic not to mention this productivity gap.

Nor did it mention that overall, if you take into account land displacement effects, organic is also likely worse for biodiversity. Instead they talk about an ideal world where people in the west eat less meat and fewer calories overall so that people in developing countries can have more. This is simplistic nonsense.

If you think about it, the organic movement is at its heart a rejectionist one. It doesn’t accept many modern technologies on principle. Like the Amish in Pennsylvania, who froze their technology with the horse and cart in 1850, the organic movement essentially freezes its technology in somewhere around 1950, and for no better reason.

It doesn’t even apply this idea consistently however. I was reading in a recent Soil Association magazine that it is OK to blast weeds with flamethrowers or fry them with electric currents, but benign herbicides like glyphosate are still a no-no because they are ‘artificial chemicals’.

In reality there is no reason at all why avoiding chemicals should be better for the environment – quite the opposite in fact. Recent research by Jesse Ausubel and colleagues at Rockefeller University looked at how much extra farmland Indian farmers would have had to cultivate today using the technologies of 1961 to get today’s overall yield. The answer is 65 million hectares, an area the size of France.

In China, maize farmers spared 120 million hectares, an area twice the size of France, thanks to modern technologies getting higher yields. On a global scale, between 1961 and 2010 the area farmed grew by only 12%, whilst kilocalories per person rose from 2200 to 2800. So even with three billion more people, everyone still had more to eat thanks to a production increase of 300% in the same period.

So how much land worldwide was spared in the process thanks to these dramatic yield improvements, for which chemical inputs played a crucial role? The answer is 3 billion hectares, or the equivalent of two South Americas. There would have been no Amazon rainforest left today without this improvement in yields. Nor would there be any tigers in India or orang utans in Indonesia. That is why I don’t know why so many of those opposing the use of technology in agriculture call themselves environmentalists. . . .

Lynas asks where the opposition comes from and says there seems to be a widespread assumption that modern technology equals more risk.

Actually there are many very natural and organic ways to face illness and early death, as the debacle with Germany’s organic beansprouts proved in 2011. This was a public health catastrophe, with the same number of deaths and injuries as were caused by Chernobyl, because E.-coli probably from animal manure infected organic beansprout seeds imported from Egypt.

In total 53 people died and 3,500 suffered serious kidney failure. And why were these consumers choosing organic? Because they thought it was safer and healthier, and they were more scared of entirely trivial risks from highly-regulated chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

If you look at the situation without prejudice, much of the debate, both in terms of anti-biotech and organic, is simply based on the naturalistic fallacy – the belief that natural is good, and artificial is bad. This is a fallacy because there are plenty of entirely natural poisons and ways to die, as the relatives of those who died from E.-coli poisoning would tell you.

For organic, the naturalistic fallacy is elevated into the central guiding principle for an entire movement. This is irrational and we owe it to the Earth and to our children to do better.

This is not to say that organic farming has nothing to offer – there are many good techniques which have been developed, such as intercropping and companion planting, which can be environmentally very effective, even it they do tend to be highly labour-intensive. Principles of agro-ecology such as recyling nutrients and promoting on-farm diversity should also be taken more seriously everywhere.

But organic is in the way of progress when it refuses to allow innovation. Again using GM as the most obvious example, many third-generation GM crops allow us not to use environmentally-damaging chemicals because the genome of the crop in question has been altered so the plant can protect itself from pests. Why is that not organic?

Organic is also in the way when it is used to take away choice from others. One of the commonest arguments against GM is that organic farmers will be ‘contaminated’ with GM pollen, and therefore no-one should be allowed to use it. So the rights of a well-heeled minority, which come down ultimately to a consumer preference based on aesthetics, trump the rights of everyone else to use improved crops which would benefit the environment.

I am all for a world of diversity, but that means one farming system cannot claim to have a monopoly of virtue and aim at excluding all other options. Why can’t we have peaceful co-existence? This is particularly the case when it shackles us to old technologies which have higher inherent risks than the new.

It seems like almost everyone has to pay homage to ‘organic’ and to question this orthodoxy is unthinkable. Well I am here to question it today.

The biggest risk of all is that we do not take advantage of all sorts of opportunities for innovation because of what is in reality little more than blind prejudice. Let me give you two examples, both regrettably involving Greenpeace.

Last year Greenpeace destroyed a GM wheat crop in Australia, for all the traditional reasons, which I am very familiar with having done it myself. This was publicly funded research carried out by the Commonwealth Scientific Research institute, but no matter. They were against it because it was GM and unnatural.

What few people have since heard is that one of the other trials being undertaken, which Greenpeace activists with their strimmers luckily did not manage to destroy, accidentally found a wheat yield increase of an extraordinary 30%. Just think. This knowledge might never have been produced at all, if Greenpeace had succeeded in destroying this innovation. As the president of the NFU Peter Kendall recently suggested, this is analogous to burning books in a library before anyone has been able to read them.

The second example comes from China, where Greenpeace managed to trigger a national media panic by claiming that two dozen children had been used as human guinea pigs in a trial of GM golden rice. They gave no consideration to the fact that this rice is healthier, and could save thousands of children from vitamin A deficiency-related blindness and death each year.

What happened was that the three Chinese scientists named in the Greenpeace press release were publicly hounded and have since lost their jobs, and in an autocratic country like China they are at serious personal risk. Internationally because of over-regulation golden rice has already been on the shelf for over a decade, and thanks to the activities of groups like Greenpeace it may never become available to vitamin-deficient poor people.

This to my mind is immoral and inhumane, depriving the needy of something that would help them and their children because of the aesthetic preferences of rich people far away who are in no danger from Vitamin A shortage. Greenpeace is a $100-million a year multinational, and as such it has moral responsibilities just like any other large company.

The fact that golden rice was developed in the public sector and for public benefit cuts no ice with the antis. Take Rothamsted Research, whose director Maurice Moloney is speaking tomorrow. Last year Rothamsted began a trial of an aphid-resistant GM wheat which would need no pesticides to combat this serious pest.

Because it is GM the antis were determined to destroy it. They failed because of the courage of Professor John Pickett and his team, who took to YouTube and the media to tell the important story of why their research mattered and why it should not be trashed. They gathered thousands of signatures on a petition when the antis could only manage a couple of hundred, and the attempted destruction was a damp squib.

One intruder did manage to scale the fence, however, who turned out to be the perfect stereotypical anti-GM protestor – an old Etonian aristocrat whose colourful past makes our Oxford local Marquess of Blandford look like the model of responsible citizenry.

This high-born activist scattered organic wheat seeds around the trial site in what was presumably a symbolic statement of naturalness. Professor Pickett’s team tell me they had a very low-tech solution to getting rid of it – they went round with a cordless portable hoover to clear it up.

This year, as well as repeating the wheat trial, Rothamsted is working on an omega 3 oilseed that could replace wild fish in food for farmed salmon. So this could help reduce overfishing by allowing land-based feedstocks to be used in aquaculture. Yes it’s GM, so expect the antis to oppose this one too, despite the obvious potential environmental benefits in terms of marine biodiversity.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough. So my conclusion here today is very clear: the GM debate is over. It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe – over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm. You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food. More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no-one has died from eating GM.

Just as I did 10 years ago, Greenpeace and the Soil Association claim to be guided by consensus science, as on climate change. Yet on GM there is a rock-solid scientific consensus, backed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society, health institutes and national science academies around the world. Yet this inconvenient truth is ignored because it conflicts with their ideology.

One final example is the sad story of the GM blight-resistant potato. This was being developed by both the Sainsbury Lab and Teagasc, a publicly-funded institute in Ireland – but the Irish Green Party, whose leader often attends this very conference, was so opposed that they even took out a court case against it.

This is despite the fact that the blight-resistant potato would save farmers from doing 15 fungicide sprays per season, that pollen transfer is not an issue because potatoes are clonally propagated and that the offending gene came from a wild relative of the potato.

There would have been a nice historical resonance to having a blight-resistant potato developed in Ireland, given the million or more who died due to the potato famine in the mid 19th century. It would have been a wonderful thing for Ireland to be the country that defeated blight. But thanks to the Irish Green Party, this is not to be.

And unfortunately the antis now have the bureaucrats on their side. Wales and Scotland are officially GM free, taking medieval superstition as a strategic imperative for devolved governments supposedly guided by science.

It is unfortunately much the same in much of Africa and Asia. India has rejected Bt brinjal, even though it would reduce insecticide applications in the field, and residues on the fruit. The government in India is increasingly in thrall to backward-looking ideologues like Vandana Shiva, who idealise pre-industrial village agriculture despite the historical fact that it was an age of repeated famines and structural insecurity.

In Africa, ‘no GM’ is still the motto for many governments. Kenya for example has actually banned GM foods because of the supposed “health risks” despite the fact that they could help reduce the malnutrition that is still rampant in the country – and malnutrition is by the way a proven health risk, with no further evidence needed. In Kenya if you develop a GM crop which has better nutrition or a higher yield to help poorer farmers then you will go to jail for 10 years.

Thus desperately-needed agricultural innovation is being strangled by a suffocating avalanche of regulations which are not based on any rational scientific assessment of risk. The risk today is not that anyone will be harmed by GM food, but that millions will be harmed by not having enough food, because a vocal minority of people in rich countries want their meals to be what they consider natural.

I hope now things are changing. The wonderful Bill and Melinda Gates foundation recently gave $10 million to the John Innes Centre to begin efforts to integrate nitrogen fixing capabilities into major food crops, starting with maize. Yes, Greenpeace, this will be GM. Get over it. If we are going to reduce the global-scale problem of nitrogen pollution then having major crop plants fixing their own nitrogen is a worthy goal.

I know it is politically incorrect to say all this, but we need a a major dose of both international myth-busting and de-regulation. The plant scientists I know hold their heads in their hands when I talk about this with them because governments and so many people have got their sense of risk so utterly wrong, and are foreclosing a vitally necessary technology.

Norman Borlaug is dead now, but I think we honour his memory and his vision when we refuse to give in to politically correct orthodoxies when we know they are incorrect. The stakes are high. If we continue to get this wrong, the life prospects of billions of people will be harmed.

So I challenge all of you today to question your beliefs in this area and to see whether they stand up to rational examination. Always ask for evidence, as the campaigning group Sense About Science advises, and make sure you go beyond the self-referential reports of campaigning NGOs.

But most important of all, farmers should be free to choose what kind of technologies they want to adopt. If you think the old ways are the best, that’s fine. You have that right.

What you don’t have the right to do is to stand in the way of others who hope and strive for ways of doing things differently, and hopefully better. Farmers who understand the pressures of a growing population and a warming world. Who understand that yields per hectare are the most important environmental metric. And who understand that technology never stops developing, and that even the fridge and the humble potato were new and scary once.

So my message to the anti-GM lobby, from the ranks of the British aristocrats and celebrity chefs to the US foodies to the peasant groups of India is this. You are entitled to your views. But you must know by now that they are not supported by science. We are coming to a crunch point, and for the sake of both people and the planet, now is the time for you to get out of the way and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably.

No-one is forcing anyone to consume genetically modified food.

Those who wish to get non-GM and/or organic food are free to do so. But when science finds no danger in GM then they have no right to prevent others benefiting from it.

They might argue, correctly, that the absence of proof of danger is not the same as proof of safety.

But life is a risky business and if we waited for 100% proof of safety before doing anything we’d do nothing.


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