Northland Regional Council’s rejection of GMO moratorium is welcomed

Rejecting a moratorium on genetic modification in Northland will broaden economic opportunities, enable vital tools to meet environmental challenges “and was the right decision for the Northland Regional Council to make”, the chairman of the Life Sciences Network, Dr William Rolleston, said today.

GE Free Northland and others had attempted to inject prohibitive GM provisions into the regional plan part way through the planning process.

When finally rejecting this earlier in July, the council said it was the responsibility of the Environmental Risk Management Authority to assess and control genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Activists for some time have pushed to stop farmers and conservationists using modern genetic technologies by persuading councils to impose onerous local rules and outright prohibitions, Dr Rolleston said. Continue reading

Gene editing upsets the GM applecart, says Dr Rolleston

“New Zealand will slip behind its competitors and forfeit opportunities to address climate change, water quality, pests and other environmental concerns if we reject the use of gene editing in our primary industries,” the chairman of the Life Sciences Network, Dr William Rolleston, said today.

A report released by the Royal Society of New Zealand explores the potential uses of gene editing in the primary sector such as removing allergens from milk, making mānuka disease-resistant, preventing wilding pines and accelerating apple breeding.

Gene editing enables more precise and targeted breeding than is available through traditional breeding methods but because it is considered genetic modification in New Zealand its use will be significantly limited.

The use of genetic modification has been difficult in New Zealand due to the current regulation and strong pressure from activist groups however the advent of gene editing has changed the stakes in the debate on genetic modification.

Dr Rolleston said only time would tell if gene editing would upset the anti-GM applecart,

‘” … but we are seeing encouraging signs that science, not fear, is coming to the fore in the debate on genetic modification as it already has in the debates on immunisation and fluoride.”

Genetic modification no longer was a hypothetical argument for New Zealand, he said.

The examples presented in the Royal Society paper showed there were tangible benefits to using gene editing technology which would  be obvious to farmers and the public.  He hoped they became involved in the discussion.

Source:  Life Science Network

Feds call for review of Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act

Federated Farmers is calling on the Government to urgently set up an expert panel to review the regulation of genetic modification (GM).

A press statement from the federation says this has been prompted by the recently published study carried out by US-based National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The study  examined the literature,  listened to speakers and heard comments from the public to determine the negative effects and benefits of commercial GM crops.

Federated Farmers President Dr William Rolleston says the report found there was no substantiated evidence of a difference in risk to human health between current commercial GE crops and conventional crops.

“There was no conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from GE crops. In fact, the report concludes that GM crops may even be better for the environment,” he says.

Looking to the future of GM crops, the report notes that new genetic technologies are blurring the line between conventional and GM crops, and that regulatory systems need to assess crop varieties based on their individual characteristics, not the way they are produced.

“This is the very message Federated Farmers and other science and industry organisations gave to the New Zealand government in October 2014, calling for a change in legislation from outdated technology based to risk based assessment to enable effective management and regulation of all GM technologies.

“Since then the rules around genetic modification have become even more distorted and anachronistic by classifying all techniques developed since 1998 as GM. Imagine if we applied similar logic to cell- phones or motor cars.”

Dr Rolleston says any review should develop the principles which would underpin new legislation taking into account credible scientific evidence of risks and benefits, coexistence and a fair balance or rights between those wanting to use GM products and those wanting to avoid them.

He says farmers should be given the choice to use safe and effective technologies if they are to continue to be world leaders in agriculture.

Farm leader says it’s time for a second green revolution – and a review of GM rules

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.

NZ farm leader joins in welcoming policy shift on GM by Australian Green Party

Farming group leaders on both sides of the Tasman have welcomed Green Party leader and Victorian Senator Richard Di Natale’s public statements regarding genetically modified crop science.

In a series of interviews, Senator Di Natale has opened the door to changing his party’s long-standing opposition to genetically modified organisms.

He told ABC radio that “the concerns are less around human health and much more around the application of the technology when it comes to giving farmers choice.”

In another interview with The Land he said he did “not have a blanket objection to the use of genetically modified crops” and that “it’s a bit simplistic to say GMO’s are safe or they’re not safe”.

In this country, Federated Farmers welcomed this shift in thinking by the Australian Green Party and encouraged New Zealand Greens to be equally open-minded about the benefits of genetic modification.

The feds’ media statement said:

“This is entirely in line with Federated Farmers’ position of giving farmers choice about what and how they farm, and assessing the benefits and risks of genetically modified organisms on a case-by-case basis,” says Federated Farmers National President Dr William Rolleston.

“It’s refreshing to see such an open minded approach from the Australian Greens on what we see as a key issue for the agricultural sector, and we encourage the NZ Green Party to also review their policy on genetic modification.”

“If you look at some of the biggest challenges facing farmers at the moment, such as drought and pressure from some quarters  to reduce biological emissions. These are both things that likely have a scientific solution,” says Dr Rolleston.

Dr Rolleston said genetic modification has been used extensively around the world, to the benefit of farmers and the environment, without any incident of harm attributable to the GM aspects of the application.

“Although no crops using GM are approved or grown here yet, this vitally important science is being used successfully in New Zealand. GM products such as food enzymes, medicines and animal feed are now commonplace.

“We ask that the Greens open their minds to the agricultural sector also taking advantage of these rapidly evolving technologies,” he said.

in Australia, GrainGrowers chief executive Alicia Garden similarly said Senator Di Natale’s science and evidence-based approach to genetically modified (GM) crops was welcome news to advance the historically vexed debate.

According to this report in the North Queensland Register, Ms Garden said:

“You either choose to believe in science or not and if you believe in climate change and the science of climate change you should also support the science of plant breeding technologies,” she said.

“You are either a science sceptic or a science believer.

“You can’t just use one perspective to support your position then argue the same science is not applicable on another topic, just because it does not align with your views.”

Ms Garden said her group was writing a letter to Senator Di Natale on the GM crop issue and welcomed an opportunity to meet and explore the topic further.

But she said GrainGrowers disagrees with his comments on GM’s driving increased chemical and pesticide use but supported other policy views.

“One of the drivers behind GMs is to reduce the requirement for on-farm chemicals but we do support his views about transparent labelling because consumers should have a choice as to whether they eat GM foods or not,” she said.

“We also believe and absolutely agree with Senator Di Natale’s comments that all growers should have the choice as to whether they grow GM varieties or not based on their circumstances.”

The chairman of the WA Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association’s Western Graingrowers Committee, Gary McGill, said adhering to anti-GM crop policies or campaigns meant disregarding credible scientific evidence.

“To disregard the proven science is just a form of ideological madness – not petty politics – by the Greens or their representatives,” he said.

Mr McGill said the Greens had an ongoing challenge now to follow Senator Di Natale’s lead on GM crops science and shift policy.

“If there’s going to be any change of policy, I’ll only believe it when I see it,” he said.

“But the Greens are so deeply wedded in their opposition to rational science and logic I can’t see them changing their position on GMs.”

Mr McGill said the Green’s GM policy contradicted that of the federal Coalition and Labor.

He said West Australian grain farmers had adopted GM canola “overwhelmingly” each season after its commercial introduction in 2010.

“It’s not the be all and end all for grain growers but it’s a very valuable tool,” he said.

National Farmers Federation president Brent Finlay said Senator Di Natale’s “sensible comments” acknowledged the underlying science of GM crops and deserved broad praise.

Cotton Australia chief executive Adam Kay said Senator Di Natale and his colleagues were welcome to visit cotton growers on-farm to see the “enormous benefits” biotechnology had brought their industry, “and, by extension, could bring to other areas of agriculture”.

“Cotton growers have been using biotechnology successfully in Australia for 19 years, with significant benefits to the environment, farmers and the communities they support,” he said.

“Australia’s cotton industry is the most water-efficient and highest-yielding in the world, and its success is reliant upon efficient farm management practices, including the benefits brought by biotechnology.

According to Mr Kay, a sound argument could be made that, without cotton biotechnology, Australia’s cotton industry would be a fraction of its size or even non-existent.




The Feds get in behind Dr Salinger on climate change with a call for more R&D investment

Federated Farmers’ spokesman on climate change, Dr William Rolleston, has called for more investment in research into new crops and pasture varieties to deal with the greater environmental stress farms will face because of climate change.

He also said water storage is more than a farming tool – “it is a legitimate climate adaptation tool as well”.

His statement on behalf of the feds (here) was triggered by data gathered by climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger which show last year was New Zealand’s second warmest on record.

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