8th October 2007
Similar propaganda was aired on the RADIO NZ “Rural News” afternoon programme on Monday 8th October 2007,
“GM grasses pose threat to NZ” by Hugh Stringleman
New Zealand agriculture will drop well behind other countries with genetically-modified ryegrasses capable of more than twice our best dry matter production.
The United States and South American countries are also growing clean,
high-yielding GM crops without chemicals at lower cost, PGG Wrightson technology general manager Paul Tocker has said.
That is a big competitive challenge to NZ agriculture in the future.
He was speaking at a media seminar on biotechnology at Ruakura, Hamilton.
He has seen GM ryegrass in the United States which is capable of 35 tonnes/ha of dry matter annually. The best NZ non-GM production under irrigation is 15 to 20 tonnes.
We have perhaps three to five years before that GM ryegrass is on the market, Tocker said.
AgResearch, Crop & Food Research and Federated Farmers have re-opened
the debate about the roles of genetically modified organisms in New Zealand agriculture, forestry and human health.
New Zealand has been in a time warp since the “proceed with caution” findings of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification in 2001, speakers said.
Over 20 countries, many of them agricultural competitors, have moved well beyond New Zealand. Perhaps that hasn’t hurt our prospects yet, but it will do so soon, they said.
Tocker, a former CEO of Crop & Food, which does about half of the GM research in New Zealand, challenged scientists to present GM
alternatives at the level of public understanding.
“Public concerns about GM is the biggest issue, and we need more education,” he said.
PGG Wrightson is contributing toward GM research in New Zealand and Australia.
He said it is very important that NZ continues to do GM science, because if we don’t the opportunities will pass us by and we will never be able to enter that science stream again.
Tocker said the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology chairman
FRST had asked for reasons why it should continue to fund GM research, because it may never be released and the commercial sector was not showing much interest. GM science results may not be applied in NZ.
“We are probably not going to get a GM release here unless it is high-value, human health product and then you have to ask, why here and not in a much larger, more open regulatory framework offshore?” Tocker
Speakers from the two crown research institutes said no entity or group in New Zealand presently has the will or the finance to apply for a controlled release of GM plants or livestock.
While the costs of the ERMA process would be high, they would be small compared with the legal challenges from groups like GE-Free New Zealand.
ERMA approvals manager Asela Attapatu confirmed that a controlled release application would cost 10 times that of contained release field trials, which are around $40,000 each.
Professor Tony Connor, Crop & Food and Lincoln University, said about 60 GM field trials had been run here over 20 years. Most concerned potatoes, in which he now had good cultivars with GM engineered
resistance to potato tuber moth, the major pest. But those proven GM cultivars are now sitting on the shelf and if controlled release for commercial use is ever granted, growers may want further characteristics in the variety as well as the GM pest resistance.
Crop & Food has also made good progress in herbicide resistance in onions and insect resistance in brassicas, Connor said. There are several GM food approvals here, covering imports of soy, maize, cotton, canola and potato products, he said. AgResearch has two ERMA approvals for field trials in cattle, conducted behind alarmed double security
fences at Ruakura.
They are for more myelin basic protein in cow’s milk and higher kappa casein levels in milk, produced from transgenic cows. Dr Gotz Laible explained that transgenics has been used for the widespread production
of pharmaceuticals using bacteria since the 1970s. Enhanced levels of the desirable proteins have been harvested from the milk of Ruakura transgenic cows, with no other adverse effects, he said.
Professor Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of biotechnology research and education at the University of California, said GM would be part of sustainable agriculture in future.
Without the technological advances, the world will need twice the amount of arable land by 2050.
GM crops already generate US $30 billion annually in 22 countries, 11 of them developing countries.
In 10 years GM crops have reached 102 million hectares (2006), half of which is grown in the US.
Pesticide use had reduced by 14% and crops are now grown with no tillage, equivalent to 9.4 billion kgs of carbon dioxide emissions
reduction, which is like removing five million vehicles from the roads.
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