A second green revolution is needed – and the answer includes genetic technologies – says Federated Farmers National President Dr William Rolleston.
Speaking at a Ministry for Primary Industries Science Conference in Wellington, Dr Rolleston said the world needs to increase food production by 60 per cent to feed a rapidly growing population, and it’s time for New Zealand to have a mature discussion about how the country can take advantage of the tools of modern science to see its agriculture truly prosper.
“Genetic modification, where it has been approved elsewhere in the world, has been taken up enthusiastically by farmers and delivered strong economic and environmental benefits,” he says.
“The United States has gone from no genetically modified crops in 1996 to over 90% of all corn, cotton and soybean in 2014. Compare that with organics which over the same time and with the same opportunity has barely reached one per cent of hectares grown.”
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), more than 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted a record 181 million hectares of biotech or crops in 2014 – and the results speak for themselves, Dr Rolleston said.
Analysis of 147 studies over 20 years indicates that biotech crops have on average reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 per cent, increased crop yields by 22 per cent and farmer profits by 68 per cent while in 2013 alone biotech crops delivered reductions in CO2 production equivalent to taking 12 million cars off the road.
“We’re talking better outcomes for the environment and better outcomes for farmers, and New Zealand is missing out. It’s time for a mature discussion at a national level that looks at the science, the benefits and costs, and what this could mean for New Zealand,” says Dr Rolleston.
“If we are to contribute to the global challenges of food production and climate change, and if we are to achieve better outcomes for our society, our economy and our environment, then we must play our part. We must be cautious, we must be responsible but we must not be paralysed by fear.
The rapid progression of science had made New Zealand’s regulatory system look obsolete and something had to change, Dr Rolleston said.