Archive for the ‘Genetic modification’ Category

Jo Goodhew bows out by calling for GM policy to be based on proven science

Retiring National MP Jo Goodhew began her valedictory speech by addressing “the many peoples, all voices, all mountains, all rivers” whom she thanked for coming to support her.

This injection of animist sentiments belied the tribute she played to science.

She recalled her ministerial involvement in the food safety scare in 2014 sparked by a threat to contaminate infant and other formulas with 1080 and in a scare at Christmas 2015 caused by the contamination of imported frozen berries with hepatitis.

Almost every single one of those frozen products was already labelled with its country of origin. It is not so long ago that New Zealand apples were also contaminated by a worker with hepatitis A.

So the answer is health and food safety officials working closely to identify and trace food-borne illnesses fast. Excellent traceability systems on the part of producers are essential and COOLs are only a marketing tool that works when the origin has a great reputation, which is exactly what New Zealand has.

Ms Goodhew also recalled her work on developing the National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry which she said will significantly reduce the numbers of consents required each year.

And she took pride in the Government’s work in tackling allocation, reliability of supply, measuring quality, cleaning up poor-quality fresh water, requiring stock exclusion from waterways, and mapping a path to restore degraded waterways.

But most significantly, she said

“It is high time New Zealanders woke up to the importance of genetically modified organisms and our future in the fields of health, plant, and animal genetics, and, through that, environmental protection.

“Gene editing can help us cure cancers, eradicate wilding pines as well as four-legged pests, develop grasses that assist us to reduce methane emissions, and so much more.

“The debate has to be less about fear of the unknown, and more about safe and proven science.”

Ms Goodhew was first elected to Parliament as MP for Aoraki in 2005 and was elected as MP for Rangitata in 2008, 2011 and 2014.

ArborGen rebuts lobby group’s claims and denies doing research into GE trees in NZ

A GE Free NZ press statement released earlier today was promptly challenged by ArborGen, a company involved in global forestry genetics.

ArborGen says (HERE) the GE Free NZ statement “makes a number of statements that are factually incorrect with regard to ArborGen and its business” and:

“ArborGen does not undertake any research into GE trees in New Zealand. It does not grow GE trees at Te Teko or any of its other New Zealand nurseries. Any research that ArborGen does on GE trees outside New Zealand strictly follows all legal requirements of the particular jurisdiction.”

The statement which provoked this response (HERE) said genetically engineered (GE) tree plantations are a direct threat to the environment, ecosystems, and biodiversity of ecological systems.

GE Free NZ was commenting on the buy out of ArborGen by New Zealand-owned Rubicon (HERE).

It contended this deal “ties New Zealand even more deeply into the biotech tree industry pushing a dangerous and unsustainable programme involving millions of GE trees.”

It further said recent serious biosecurity breaches highlight the fact that the Ministry for Primary Industries is monitoring from its desks and allowing importers and businesses to regulate their own businesses.

“The outcomes of this approach threaten the environment and economy.”

The statement insisted the Environment Protection Agency must demand that all GE tree trials – regardless of whether they are private or public – are transparent, accountable, controlled and contained.

The EPA was urged to immediately enforce controls to ensure secure containment, monitoring, inspection and comprehensive annual reporting at the ArborGen site.

Changes to resource legislation protects crops in GE-free zones

GM-hostile lobby groups have welcomed changes to the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill’s provisions on genetic engineering but are disappointed they do not go further.

The controversial Bill passed the committee stage in Parliament earlier this week and is expected to have its third and final reading today.

One controversial section that has not been removed from the final version of the Bill allows the Minister for the Environment to bypass Parliament and make fundamental changes to the law if he believes council plans duplicate or deal with the same subject matter as central Government laws.  But an exemption – secured by the Maori Party in exchange for its support in having the Bill enacted – prevents the minister from imposing GM crops on regions that want their territories to remain GM Free.

The Soil & Health Association was pleased with some of the changes regarding genetic engineering, but said they did not go far enough.

It is pleased that the Maori Party stood strong on its commitment to oppose changes that would have allowed the Minister to strike out GE-free zones.

Soil & Health chair Marion Thomson said the exemption means the Minister cannot strike out GE-free zones where crops are involved,

“The word ‘crop’ has a wide definition and we understand that the Maori Party secured the amendment on the basis that the term also covers grasses and forestry, while the term ‘growing’ could also cover field trials and releases,” says Thomson.

But the exemption does not apply to animals. This means the Minister could override local authorities on any decisions about GE animals if he chose to.

“Ultimately we are happy with this result, while animals are not covered, GM grasses, forestry, field trials and releases are,” Thomson says.

Earlier in the week, as the Bill was set to enter the committee stage, GE Free New Zealand said that stage was the last opportunity to make changes to the Bill.

“GE Free New Zealand urges that all clauses in the RLA taking away the communities’ democratic right to adopt precautionary land use rules around GMOs be dropped from this seriously flawed and inconsistent legislation,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE-Free NZ.

GE Free Northland today said Whangarei, Far North, and Auckland communities were delighted that the Maori Party had successfully blocked the Government’s attempt to enable the Minister for the Environment to use the RMA to destroy GE Free zones.

“Our councils need to retain their authority and jurisdiction on a wide range of issues, including the right to ban or control any outdoor experimentation or release of transgenic animals,” said GE Free Northland chairperson Zelka Grammer.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill reforms six pieces of legislation including the Resource Management Act.

The bill was stalled for much of year because the Government had lost its parliamentary majority in the Northland by-election in March 2015, making it dependent on two votes from its three support partners, Act, United Future and the Maori Party, to pass legislation.

Act and United Future opposed key parts of the reforms, but the Maori Party used its votes to negotiate enhanced iwi participation arrangements in planning processes and the GM-free crop protection.

Environmentalists critical of Nick Smith over GM policy

Former Green Party MP Steffan Browning has accused Environment Minister Nick Smith of wanting to bully the country into accepting GE plants into New Zealand “using bad law, unproven claims about productivity, and emotional spin on cancer treatment research.”

Browning (see HERE) was prompted to blog on the subject after TVNZ’s Sunday program reported the growers of organic apples and poultry producers were increasingly unhappy with Smith’s GE stance.

He contended:

Smith has been using unproven science on GE rye grass, and misleading claims about GE vaccine research to bolster his argument for radical new ministerial powers. The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, currently in front of Parliament would allow Minister Smith to override Councils who choose to declare GE-free zones for their community’s environmental and economic wellbeing.

AgResearch’s genetically engineered (GE) forages (including ryegrass) program has already wasted millions of taxpayers’ money. If the grass was released into the environment, there’s a strong chance it would wreck New Zealand’s competitive GE Free advantage; and certainly reduce the billions of dollars of export potential in organic conversions. The supposed productivity boost of GE rye grass is not just unproven, but part of a succession of failed research targets and timelines over the last 20 years.

The Soil and Health Association last week expressed concerns too (see HERE)..

The Government seems hell-bent on denying the rights of communities to have GE-free zones, which are under threat from a ‘dictator clause’, says the Soil & Health Association.

“We are continuing to stand by all the communities around New Zealand who, quite rightly, want to have control over what happens with GMOs in their regions,” said Marion Thomson, chair of Soil & Health.

The previous day Parliament had heard the second reading of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, which contains proposals that would allow the Minister for the Environment  to strip councils of their ability to create GE-Free food producing zones.

Experts discuss what must be done to meet Predator Free NZ pest target

The Science Media Centre has mustered a raft of experts to comment on  the Government’s announcement six months ago that it would aim for a Predator Free New Zealand by 2050.

The experts were asked about the tools needed to pull off the plan and what the hurdles to success might be.

Genetic modification is among the technologies brought into considerations.

The Science Media Centre has just published the questions to and responses from

– Professor Neil Gemmell, University of Otago;

– Assistant Professor Kevin Esvelt, MIT;

– Dr James Russell, University of Auckland;

– Dr Andrea Byrom, Director, Biological Heritage National Science Challenge<;

– Professor Carolyn King, University of Waikato;

– Professor Charles Daugherty, Victoria University of Wellington;

– Professor Phil Seddon, University of Otago.

Dr James Russell, a conservation biologist, said eradicating the eight targeted mammals would not only benefit native species but also would extend to primary industries – where invasive pests are vectors of disease – as well as offer boosts to tourism and public health.

Generally, the economic benefits of eradicating these eight species were predicted to outweigh the costs, “especially when you consider that we already invest millions every year in their control just to stay in a ‘holding pattern’.”

Professor Neil Gemmell, Professor of Reproduction and Genomics, said he suspected genetic technologies would be the key to developing pest control that is species-specific, works at a large scale, and is cheap and persistent.

“Prior work surveying people’s view on issues such as possum control suggests that there is more public support for tools that might impair an animal’s fertility compared with any other form of manipulation or control measure that may cause the animal harm and suffering.”

Professor Phil Seddon, Director of the University of Otago’s Wildlife Management Programme, similarly said:

“I think the general public might be more accepting of GMOs for conservation than some people think – we need to give an informed public a chance to consider the issue.”

The questions to and answers from each of the experts can be found here.

Call for risk assessment methods around GM crops and herbicides to be revisited

Professor Jack Heinemann, writing at Guest Work, draws attention to new studies published by Nature’s journal, Scientific Reports, which question the basis of how to determine the safety of products used in agriculture and at home.

Guest Work is the Sciblogs guest blog which runs submissions from a wide range of contributors.

Professor Heinemann is a lecturer in genetics at the University of Canterbury.

The first of the featured reports to which he draws attention is on the application of ‘omics’ techniques to a long familiar GM maize line called NK603.

The second is on the application of omics to rats that eat Roundup, one of the glyphosate-based herbicides used on NK603.

Professor Heinemann addresses concerns about glyphosate-based herbicides and the typical counter to these with threats that their elimination would cause greater use of more toxic alternatives.

This threat rings hollow, both because excessive use is leading to resistant weeds that is already driving farmers to use other herbicides, and because it is a false choice.

Let’s not swap glyphosate-based herbicides for those that have different toxic effects, he argues. Rather, let’s use science to reduce the use of herbicides and the products of technology that are dependent upon them.

New York Times article on genetic modification stirs scientists

A brisk exchange of views aboutr genetic modification has been generated by an article in the New York Times, “Doubts About a Promised Bounty” (“Uncertain Harvest” series, front page, Oct. 30).

The article says:

The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat.

But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.

A Monsanto executive, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Robert T.Fraley, is among those who has responded. .

Whether they’re growing crops on thousands of acres in Illinois or on a small plot in India, farmers are smart business people who won’t waste time or money on tools that don’t deliver results.

When nearly 20 million farmers around the world choose to invest in genetically modified seeds for two decades, it is because farmers are seeing better harvests.

Extensive, third-party studies document the significant benefits farmers have seen using G.M. crops that range from more efficient weed and insect control, to reduced use of insecticides, to reduced erosion and improved soil health, to increased crop yields.

In the United States alone, in the 20 years since the introduction of G.M. crops in 1996, soybean yields have increased by a remarkable 28 percent and corn yields by nearly 32 percent. This is the real story of how farmers are meeting the increasing global demand for food using G.M. seeds.

G.M.O. crops are not a silver bullet, but they are a very important and productive tool for modern and sustainable agriculture. With a global population expected to grow to nearly 10 billion by 2050, farmers need every available tool to produce more food sustainably. G.M.O.s are a vital part of the solution, and the voice of the farmer should be represented.

Peter Scott, a fellow and former president of the International Society for Plant Pathology, is one of three contributors to the debate whose letters can be f0und here. He writes:

In “Doubts About a Promised Bounty” (“Uncertain Harvest” series, front page, Oct. 30), you say “genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.”

We misjudge genetic modification’s potential by considering just yield and pesticide use over 20 years.

“Fooling with nature” is nothing new: Crops are genetic variants of wild plants selected by humans over millenniums. Our latest tools include G.M. — allowing precision and wider choice of useful qualities. Given the challenge of global food security, it is foolish to overlook any new tool in the breeder’s toolbox.

Early G.M. users overplayed their hand if they predicted an imminent “bounty.” Use of G.M. is focused on a handful of genes conferring insect resistance or herbicide tolerance. This gives little indication of G.M.’s potential to deliver new qualities to crops of the future.

Here is one example: Rice-based diets are deficient in a precursor of vitamin A, causing blindness and death in children. G.M. is delivering “golden rice” with novel genes that correct the deficiency.

We should take a broader view, as described in the August issue of Food Security.

Ricardo Salvador, a senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says:

Your article confirms what the National Academy of Sciences and the Union of Concerned Scientists have found: Genetically modified organisms have neither been “feeding the world” nor reducing pesticide use. The industry has made billions selling farmers (and the taxpayers who subsidize them) flashy tools that have failed to achieve their grandly exaggerated objectives.

If the goal of our agricultural system is what’s best for farmers, eaters and the environment, there’s a better way to achieve it: agroecology. Just one example can be found in an ongoing Iowa State University experiment, which has demonstrated over 15 years that rotational cropping systems that work with nature (rather than against it) enhance yields and profits for farmers while reducing pesticide and fertilizer inputs and environmental impact.

While the agribusiness industry can’t be expected to develop holistic agricultural systems without a clear product to sell, the government owes taxpayers solutions that deliver. So far agroecological strategies are underfunded. The next president must increase investment in these cost-effective farming improvements.

Sudhindra Kulkarni, a member of the Global Farmer Network,says: .

I realized the benefits of genetically modified crops with my own eyes, on my own farm. I grow G.M. cotton near my village, Malli, in the state of Karnataka, India.

As a farmer, I can say that based on my past experience of farming, since the arrival of G.M. cotton, my crops are free of pests and healthier, and my farm has become sustainable.

Farming is a constant struggle, but before the advent of G.M. cotton, it was a losing battle. The bollworm pests attacked our crops relentlessly. We fought them as best we could, but our harvests were meager. I thought I would barely scrape by, as my father and grandfather before me had done.

Then came the commercialization of G.M. cotton. We started to plant it a dozen years ago. It transformed our lives. Finally, we had a way to beat the bollworm pest, increasing our yield from one ton to four tons per hectare. Cultivation of G.M. cotton still demands dedication and discipline, but now I have technology on my side.

Today, most of India’s cotton farmers use G.M. products. It’s the only way to farm sustainably.