The genetic modification debate – rekindled in the High Court in a case brought by Federated Farmers this month – will be further fuelled by a letter published in the journal Science.
In the letter, six researchers from three institutions explain their recent petition in support of science-based criteria in guiding the safe and effective employment of genetic modification (GM) technology.
The petition, the first organised by individual scientists in support of GM technology, yielded more than 1,400 signatures from plant science experts supporting the American Society of Plant Biologists’ (ASPB) position statement on genetically modified crops, which states that they are “an effective tool for advancing food security and reducing the negative environmental impacts of agriculture.” The ASPB is the world’s largest organization of plant biologists.
Although there is broad support in the scientific community for genetically modified crops, the petition organisers say too much confusion about the issue is hindering effective deployment of these technologies.
“To meet our current and future food supply demands, without destroying our planet, we need every efficacious tool available,” they write. The letter’s authors are Carnegie’s Jose Dinneny; Noah Fahlgren, Rebecca Bart, and Daniel Chitwood of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, MO; and Luis Herrera Estrella and Rubén Rellán Álvarez of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity in Mexico.
The signatories of the petition represent a knowledgeable consortium of scientists, who have published more than 17,600 scientific papers on subjects including plant breeding, the molecular and genetic mechanisms underlying plant growth and development, and plant responses to environmental stresses.
The petitioners’ goal is to demonstrate to the public that there is consensus within their scientific community about the safety and efficacy of using genetic modification technology in agriculture.
“Our petition gives voice to the individual scientist,” Chitwood explains.
Carnegie President Matthew Scott, one of the petitioners, says: “GM crops, deployed appropriately in light of scientific knowledge and societal and environmental imperatives, can improve food and health substantially without detriment to the environment. In fact there is considerable potential for preserving the environment through use of GMOs to reduce excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers.”
The document adds voices to the already existing position statements in support of genetically modified organisms from other scientific organizations including the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the World Health Organization.
“We hope that the consensus among plant scientists presented here is heard by policymakers, the business community, and, more importantly, the general public and initiates a new conversation on how best to implement GM tools to improve crops for sustainable agriculture. We invite advocates of the responsible use of such tools to read the ASPB position statement, sign our petition, and make your voice heard to encourage the use of the best-available scientific information in setting GMO policy and evaluating individual agricultural products,” says Dinneny.
The ASPB position statement and the petition can be found here.
In this country Federated Farmers squared up against anti-GM advocated in the High Court this month over the right of communities to have a say in the use of genertically modified organisms.
The hearing was covered by Radio New Zealand.
The federations challenged an Environment Court ruling from May 2015 that regional councils do have such a right under the Resource Management Act.
It argued that councils cannot use this legislation to control the use of GMOs
It said central government passed the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act expressly for that purpose, and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is the sole regulator of GMOs.
The farmers argued that Parliament cannot have intended for local councils to duplicate that job, or thwart the authority of the EPA.
In the Environment Court, Judge Newhook had found councils did have a role to play in the use of GMOs.
He found all resource use was governed by the Resource Management Act unless specifically exempted and, since regional councils were charged with the sustainable management of resources, they must therefore be able to consider the social, economic and ecological effects of genetic modification.
GE Free Northland spokesperson Zelka Grammer told Radio New Zealand councils up and down the country have been responding to community pressure to limit or ban GMOs since the Environment Court ruling was made.
“Hastings District Council, for example, since Judge Newhook’s decision in our favour, they’ve proceeded with their district plan and they have banned everything,” she said.
“They have banned any outdoor GE experiments; any releases for a period of 10 years. And there was very strong support in that district for that protection.”
In Northland, farmer and former regional councillor Ian Walker said local councils lacked the scientific smarts to make those sorts of decisions.
Mr Walker who fought to keep genetic engineering off the Northland council’s agenda said the anti-GE lobby was holding back production and hurting the economy.
“None of our councillors has a science background,” he said.
“The EPA is the agency that does have the scientific knowledge to control GMO releases, and it should not be able to be undermined by councils,” he says.
“There are GM grass strains being trialled overseas at the moment that could help us weather climate change,” Mr Walker said.
“They would reduce the impact on the environment and stand up to drought and
In Hawke’s Bay a group of local farming stalwarts is supporting the Hastings District Council as it prepares to fight for the district to stay GMO free.
Later this year the council will head to the Environment Court to defend its genetically modified organism free policy.