GE Free NZ says ryegrass trial results are “an illusion”

AgResearch a few days ago enthused about an important milestone being reachedin its development of a new generation grass “that could prove a game-changer for agriculture”.

The genetically modified High Metabolisable Energy ryegrass had been shown in AgResearch’s laboratories to grow up to 50 per cent faster than conventional ryegrass, to be able to store more energy for better animal growth, to be more resistant to drought, and to produce up to 23 per cent less methane (the largest single contributor to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions) from livestock.

Modelling also predicts less nitrogen excreted into the environment by animals feeding on the ryegrass, and consequently less nitrate leaching and lower emissions of another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide.

Development of the HME ryegrass is progressing in the mid-west of the United States, where genetically modified organisms can be field tested outside the lab.

GE Free NZ is unimpressed.

Today it has said the GE ryegrass “is still at the starting line, after unimpressive results from US field trials”.

Approval was given in April 2017 for a one-year trial in the US State of Missouri, GE Free NZ said, “but AgResearch’s costly GE ryegrass field trial has not been able to measure any significant outcomes”.

The statement said:

AgResearch’s GM rye grass has been ‘in development’ since 2001 and was intended to be commercially available in 2004. More recently trials were undertaken in Australia in 2012, the outcome is confidential. After 17 years of promises for GE Rye grass, the benefits remain just supposition, with no proper safety evaluation of impacts on the environment, or animal health.

US farmers are fearful that pollen from the unregulated GE grass trials might contaminate their farms, in the same way the escape from field trials of unapproved Roundup resistant GM grass is afflicting farmers as it spreads uncontrolled across Oregon. [1]

GE ryegrass cannot address the need for smarter farm practices. The pursuit of a GE ‘magic bullet’ is diverting vital funding for development of alternative forage crops with proven benefits. [2]

The New Zealand pastoral industry is funding the GM ryegrass trials to the sum of $25 million. This is a slap in the face for farmers who are facing the dire situation of culling their animals due to the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak. It is disappointing that funders – Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE) and Dairy NZ – have deliberately sidelined and ignored the proven qualities of NZ own valuable research. [3]

“There is an opportunity cost in pouring money into GE that deprives farmers of real needed help,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE-Free NZ (in food and environment).

“Since the idea of GE ryegrass was first conceived advantages provided by quality mixed forages and non-GM High metabolic energy rye grasses with proven safety and performance have been disregarded,” said Claire Bleakley.

“AgResearch must be called to account. The GM ryegrass project is a costly miscalculation and has not improved the quality and resilience of the agricultural system for farmers.”

A systems approach based on mixed forage plants and sustainable practices is the best way to add value and resilience that lives up to the reputation of Brand New Zealand that benefits farmers.

GE Free NZ’s references were:


[2] Pembleton KG, Hills JL, Freeman MJ, McLaren DK, French M, Rawnsley RP (2016) More milk from forage: Milk production, blood metabolites, and forage intake of dairy cows grazing pasture mixtures and spatially adjacent monocultures. J Dairy Sci, 99(5):3512-3528. doi: 10.3168/jds.2015-10542. Epub 2016 Feb 28.


The AgResearch announcement quoted the CRI’s principal scientist.

After a successful preliminary growing trial last year confirmed the conditions were suitable, AgResearch principal scientist Dr Greg Bryan says the full growing trial began in the United States last month and will continue for five months.

“The preliminary trial was only two months, so it’s not over a timeframe that has any statistical merit, however we did see the increased photosynthesis that we saw with the plants in the greenhouses in New Zealand,” Dr Bryan says.

“In this full trial now underway, we will be measuring the photosynthesis, plant growth and the markers that lead to increased growth rates. While the growth has previously been studied in glasshouses in pots and as plants spaced out in the field, this will be the first opportunity to assess the growth in a pasture-like situation where plants compete with each other.”

“The five-month timeframe will allow us to determine if increased growth is consistent across the summer and autumn, and we will simulate grazing by cutting plants back every 3-4 weeks.”

“Animal feeding trials are planned to take place in two years, which we will need regulatory approvals for, and the information we get over the next two years will help us with our application for those feeding trials.”

DairyNZ strategy and investment leader for new systems and competitiveness, Dr Bruce Thorrold, says the HME ryegrass is a science breakthrough and holds great potential for New Zealand farmers.

“HME ryegrass could help us achieve less nitrogen leaching and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as improving pasture quality and productivity,” says Dr Thorrold. “This research could be transformational in future and so it is important we explore all promising avenues which could help dairy farmers respond to the challenges we face.”

While New Zealand has not yet approved the release of genetically modified crops,AgResearch principal scientist Dr Greg Bryan says it is important the science options are kept open.

He agreed with the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification that it would be unwise to turn our backs on the potential advantages on offer.

Sources: AgResearch, GE Free NZ

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.

Anti-GM groups support Northland council proposals for curbing GMO releases

The Soil & Health Association of NZ and GE Free Northland are supporting Whangarei and Far North District Council proposals to protect their territories from GM releases.

The two lobby groups led a group of 14 submitters, presenting their case at a joint hearing on Whangarei District Council and Far North District Council’s proposed district plan changes for the outdoor use of genetically modified organisms.

The two lobby groups engaged expert witnesses to outline the case for the precautionary approach to GMO releases that both councils have proposed for their district plans.

The plan changes would allow veterinary vaccines that use GMOs to be used without permits, but outdoor field trials would require council consent. Releasing GMOs to the environment would be prohibited for the life of the plans, or until such time as there is certainty as to how any risks can be managed.

Discretionary activities – or outdoor field trials – would need to meet certain standards, including bonds to cover the costs of any unintended economic, health or environmental damage caused by EPA-approved GE experiments and the costs of ongoing monitoring.

Many members of GE Free Northland are primary producers whose livelihood is from farming, horticulture, forestry and beekeeping, or home gardeners, all of whom are concerned they could be adversely affected by GMOs.

Soil & Health and GE Free Northland support the right of communities to decide whether or not GMOs are released or field-trialled in their regions and, if so, whether any conditions should be placed on them.

Farm leader rebuts GE Free NZ on link between cattle deaths and GM fodder crops

GE Free NZ has raised questions after more cattle deaths were reported in Southland and DairyNZ counselled caution on feeding cows with the increasingly popular winter vegetable crop fodder beet.

This year’s deaths follow several cattle deaths linked with swedes last year.

But Federated Farmers’ President and science spokesperson William Rolleston said recent stock sickness or deaths were likely to have been caused by a high sugar content in the fodder beet the stock have been eating.

He said in a media release in response to GE Free NZ:

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Clarification of council jurisdiction on GMO sought

GE Free Northland and the Soil & Health Association of NZ with 19 other parties have sought clarification in the Environment Court on whether there is jurisdiction in the Resource Management Act for local control of outdoor use of GMOs.

Judge Newhook reserved his decision, which will be made in the next few weeks.

The Northland/Auckland “Inter Council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation & Management Options” was formed in 2003 to look at the emerging issue of GMO’s for the whole region. After more than 10 years of public consultation this resulted in precautionary GE provisions being placed in the Northland new Regional Policy Statement.

Before the hearing GE Free Northland spokesperson Martin Robinson applauded the efforts of various NZ councils to put in place an additional tier of local protection against the risks of outdoor use of GMOs to local regions’ biosecurity, GE free primary producers, economy, environment, and food sovereignty.

Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ, said it was important for regional councils to have the power to implement precautionary measures to protect their communities’ economy by preserving the GE Zero tolerance policy regarding land uses.

GE Free NZ is supporting the stance of Whangarei District Council, GE Free Northland, Taitokerau mana whenua and Soil & Health Association in this case.

Concerns raised about loss of AgResearch scientists and the effects on farming

GE Free NZ has expressed concerns about the further loss of scientific expertise from AgResearch, saying New Zealand farmers will be left worse off.

The AgResearch scientific team conducting valuable ecological research into the carbon-nitrogen cycle has been closed.

In a media release this week, GE Free NZ said the research using advanced molecular techniques called Marker Assisted Breeding (MAB) identified valuable traits in plant cultivars that could conserve nitrogen or carbon.

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