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Taking a more modified approach

I was really pleased to hear Science, Innovation and Technology Minister Judith Collins tell me that legislation easing restrictions on Genetically Modified Organisms [GMO’s] would be introduced this year. It is long overdue.

For the record, I’m in favour of genetic modification and believe we should have adopted the technology a long time ago. It is an indictment on limp-wristed politicians that we haven’t.

I’m aware of the anti-GMO brigade, but they use emotion, not science, to advance their cause. I’d describe them as modern-day Luddites with about the same irrational arguments that Ned Ludd had way back in the 1800’s.

In addition, the plaintive cry that it will harm our country’s image is fallacious. There is no credible research to back that up.

A New Zealand Think Tank’s report on GMO told us that ‘globally genetic technology has been applied across the food and fibre sectors to improve yield, size, taste and nutritional content of product as well as develop resistance to factors such as disease, pests, drought and salt tolerance’.

GMOs are also pivotal for human health. For example, modern-day Insulin is a genetically modified product, as will be the long-awaited cure for cancer.

I have real difficulty understanding anyone’s aversion to GE, especially when research tells us that 75 per cent of processed food in a supermarket contains elements of genetic modification, meaning it is here, now.

The major everyday crops that have been genetically modified include corn, soybeans, sugar beet, cotton, apples, tomatoes, rice, potatoes and squash.

In addition, corn syrup is used as a sweetener in many foods and drinks. Corn starch is used in soups and sauces. Soybean, corn and canola oils are in snack foods, bread, salad dressings and mayonnaise. Sugar beet produces sugar.

Federated Farmers recently surveyed 1000 Kiwis with the question, “NZ scientists using genetic modification have developed a new type of grass that can reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution from cattle and sheep. Do you think Kiwi farmers should be given the choice of using this new grass if they wish”?

The results were clear with 72 per cent of respondents saying yes and just 15 per cent saying no, which begs the question as to why GM isn’t legal here.

The grass referred to in the Feds questionnaire was developed by AgResearch in NZ but had to be trialled overseas courtesy of our antiquated laws. That’s scandalous.

The American National Institute of Health published a paper on the benefits of genetically engineered food. They told us ‘there are no side effects from consuming GE foods’.

Another bleat I’ve heard is that if we accept genetic modification, it will affect us in the marketplace. People will be less inclined to buy New Zealand products.

I find that argument spurious because the countries we export to don’t ban food containing genetically modified material. Countries that do include Algeria, Madagascar, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, Belize, Peru and Venezuela. They are hardly major export markets for us.

Genetic modification, in one form or another, has been around since the 1970’s. Detractors have used some of the problems of almost 60 years ago to try and change legislation today.

Science has changed, and we need to change as well, so I’m most grateful to Minister Collins for finally getting the GMO show on the road.

Alan Emerson is a semi-retired writer, farmer and businessman. He writes a weekly column for Farmers Weekly and has written and/or edited five books. He lives with his wife in Whareama.



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