Posts Tagged ‘Genetic modification’

Soil and Health Assn claims a win for clean, green, GE-free New Zealand

There has been no announcement from Federated Farmers – at least, not that we can find.

But the Soil & Health Association says it is celebrating the decision by Federated Farmers to abandon its appeal against the right of councils to control the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their territories.

Federated Farmers filed its latest appeal earlier this year in the Court of Appeal, after its appeals to the Environment Court and High Court had been dismissed.

“We congratulate Federated Farmers on this pragmatic and sensible decision,” said Soil & Health Chair Graham Clarke.

“Both the High Court and Environment Court have ruled that regional councils have jurisdiction under the Resource Management Act (RMA) to regulate the use of GMOs through regional policy statements or plans. The recent RMA amendments further entrench the legal rights of councils to do so. Challenging these decisions would only have cost both us, the other parties involved and Federated Farmers themselves a lot of unnecessary time and money.”

Federated Farmers had argued the Environmental Protection Authority had sole responsibility for the regulation of GMOs under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO).

The Soil & Health Association says the federation’s decision to withdraw its appeal comes after recent amendments were made to the RMA, which confirmed the High Court ruling, leading Federated Farmers to believe that they “are likely to have materially reduced the prospects of the appeal being prosecuted successfully.”

The RMA changes, which passed in April this year via the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, included a controversial section which allows the Minister for the Environment to bypass parliament and make fundamental changes to the law if it is deemed that council plans duplicate or deal with the same subject matter as central Government laws.

This would have allowed the Minister to strip councils of their ability to create GE-free food producing zones.

The National Government at the time needed the Maori Party votes to pass the changes. But the Maori Party stated in December last year that it would not support changes to the RMA if they extended to allowing the Minister to overrule planning provisions controlling the use of GMOs.

Before the final reading of the Bill, an exemption was introduced under section 360D specifically for GE crops, effectively preventing the minister from permitting GMO crops in regions that had elected to remain GMO free or impose controls on the use of GMOs.

“We are so grateful to Maori Party for their determination to ensure that appropriate clauses in the RMA were included to protect regions from uncontrolled GMO use. Had they not stood firm against the changes, then we might not have had this decision from Federated Farmers to withdraw their appeal,” says Soil & Health National Council member Marion Thomson.

“The RMA amendment further confirms the ability of all local councils to determine GMO policies in their regions. Local communities can now have confidence that their values and concerns about the use of GMOs in their regions can be considered when drafting policy statements and plans.”

The economic sustainability of a wide range of agricultural export activities reliant on GMO-free status is also protected by this ruling. The global non-GMO food market is currently valued at US$250 billion, and trends show this is only going to grow. New Zealand producers benefit from access to this huge non-GMO market.

Soil & Health maintains it has found no economic, health or environmental case for GMOs. There are huge uncertainties around the adverse effects of GMOs on natural resources and ecosystems. The risks are large and consequences irreversible.



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.

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.

NZBIO welcomes Government’s review of GMO regulations

NZBIO has welcomed the Government’s decision to review local government involvement in regulating genetically modified organisms.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said last week the Government would “review the appropriateness of councils being involved” in GMO regulation after High Court Justice Mary Peters dismissed an appeal by Federated Farmers and ruled that councils have jurisdiction to control the environmental impact of GMOs in their districts by regulating their use.

Smith said it made no sense for local councils to duplicate the role of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in regulating the use of GMOs in New Zealand.

He said the EPA had taken “a very cautious approach, approving only two GMOs in 20 years – an equine flu vaccine and the [liver cancer vaccine] Pexa-Vec trial.

His press statement said:

“The problem with councils regulating in this area is that they do not have the technical expertise, resulting in regulations that have unintended consequences. The further problem is that there are no biosecurity controls between councils, so having different rules in what organisms are allowed in different districts becomes a nonsense.”

Smith has asked the Ministry for the Environment for advice. Solutions could include a law change to clarify that GMO controls are determined by the EPA and not councils.

Any changes would involve public consultation, Smith said.

NZBIO, which represents the majority of bio scientists in New Zealand, last week warned that the country was in danger of becoming a back-water for bioscience after Federated Farmers’ appeal was dismissed.

Dr Will Barker, chief executive of NZBIO, today said it had never made sense to duplicate the role of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in regulating the use of GMOs throughout New Zealand.

Dr Barker said NZBIO has been calling for a public debate on GMO since the science around genetic modification has developed significantly since the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act was enacted in New Zealand 1996.

“Many New Zealanders still rely on emotive, 1990s GMO rhetoric, not realising what has happened around the word since that time,” Dr Barker said.

“All we have been asking for is a chance to have New Zealanders talk about the issue and to be part of the decision-making of where this country goes with modern GMO.

“That decision should not be the responsibility of any one group, whether they be anti-GMO lobbyists or indeed bio scientists. This country needs people to make an educated and informed majority choice.”

Federated Farmers has also welcomed Smith’s comments. Its president, William Rolleston , said regional authorities weren’t equipped to regulate the technology.

Unqualified council staff should not regulate technology they don’t understand and stifle new emerging science, he said.

Overseas 90-95% of farmers had used genetically modified organisms when they were permitted to do so. In this country, farmers in every district deserved to have choice to use technologies which had been assessed as safe by the EPA.

Professor says it’s time to open up the conversation about GMOs

Professor Peter Kemp, Head of the Institute of Agriculture and the Environment at Massey University, has challenged the champions of bans on genetically modified organisms.

Writing in Hawke’s Bay Today (see here), he notes there have been no successful applications to introduce genetically modified plants or animals into New Zealand under the current legislation because the criteria are set extremely high.

But he says we need to open up the conversation about genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

…because there may come a time in the future when we will need to use this technology to save species dear to us – and a genetically modified option may be the only solution.

For example, the papaya industry in Hawaii was all but wiped out by the papaya ringspot virus, so the University of Hawaii worked on a genetically modified papaya resistant to the virus.

Although this was highly controversial, that GMO papaya now forms the basis of the industry there. The world is facing a similar issue with bananas, and one of the solutions could be a GM banana.

There is a “fear factor” around GMOs because we are dealing with DNA, Professor Kemp says.

But it’s a process that also occurs in nature.

The humble kumara that we eat is the result of bacteria inserting some genes to affect the plant hormone more than 8000 years ago. This made them bigger and better – and formed the basis of the kumara plants we eat today.

We use genetically modified products all the time. Most of the cotton used in clothing is from GM crops – which are bred to need fewer pesticides – which is better for the farmer and the environment.

Insulin and some vaccines are produced using GM bacteria – so a blanket ban on GMOs is short-sighted.

The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification reported back on its findings 15 years ago, when GM research had already been in place for 10 years.

Professor Kemp says that after a quarter of a century it is time our long-term plans for GMOs were reviewed.

Putting our heads in the sand and saying “we don’t like it, so we’ll ban it” is not helpful. This technology has the ability to save species and create a healthier environment, so we need to talk about how and when it could be used. We may still want to hold off releasing it into the environment, but we need to have the conversation around when that could potentially be.

The research on GMO products is extensive, and New Zealand needs to keep itself in the game by continuing to develop this technology. We can’t rely on other countries to do our research for us – they have no interest in kauri dieback or the potential loss of pohutukawa from myrtle rust.

But New Zealanders understand the importance of those trees to our history and our future.

GMOs undergo rigorous testing and are usually better evaluated for safety than non-GMO products, Professor Kemp says. Moreover the technology is advancing at a rapid rate.

At the same time, he says, it is  becoming increasingly difficult to decide what a GMO is, and how to identify it. Any maize-based products from the United States are likely to be genetically modified.

GMOs – he argues – are just part of the toolbox New Zealand scientists need to keep the country’s agriculture and horticulture industries competitive.



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.




Redefining genetic modification – Science Media Centre gathers expert reactions

The Environmental Protection Authority is planning to tweak regulations to clear up confusion over what is and is not a genetically modified organism (GMO).

Under current law, widely-used crops can be considered “genetically modified” because of the way they were created, despite having been grown in New Zealand fields for decades.

The proposed amendments clarify that organisms and plants bred using conventional chemical and radiation treatments are not considered genetically modified under the law. These older breeding technologies were in use in New Zealand before restrictions on GMOs were put in place in 1998 and are common overseas.

The issue was raised by the High Court during a controversial court case last year which centred on the definition of GMOs.

The Science Media Centre collected the following expert commentary.

Prof Barry Scott, Professor of Molecular Genetics, Massey University, comments:

“I welcome the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the regulations under the HSNO Act to clarify what is not a genetically modified organism. Decisions like this should not be made in the High Court, as was the case in May of last year around a determination sought by Scion from EPA where the decision made by EPA was subsequently overturned in the High Court.

“It is now 40 years since the development of recombinant DNA technologies and 20 years since passage of the HSNO Act. Our knowledge of the science and the technologies themselves have advanced significantly in this period yet research in New Zealand is caught in what essentially is a time warp. Clarity around what is not a GMO is very much a first and essential step to address to avoid legal redress as occurred last year.

“However, a more general overhaul of the regulations is urgently needed for New Zealand to take advantage of the very significant advances that have taken place. The highly risk averse nature of the current New Zealand regulations are way out of step with the current scientific knowledge available on GM technologies and the regulations and practices in most international jurisdictions. This disjoint has led to a compliance regime that is excessive to what is needed to manage the low risk nature of most of the current GM techniques and technologies.”

Prof Jack Heinemann, Lecturer in Genetics, University of Canterbury, comments:

“The EPA proposal is needed to improve the clarity of the HSNO Act. The EPA proposal also helps to remove uncertainty about forms of chemical mutagenesis in use prior to 1998, and whether or not the products of these kinds of modifications should be regulated by HSNO.

“I see no additional impact of great relevance to either research or industry from the proposed revisions, because the changes are aligned with how most of us had interpreted the rules anyway.

Dr Elspeth MacRae, General Manager Manufacturing and Bioproducts, Scion comments:

“It is a fallacy that NZ is GMO-free and always has been, when we have food ingredients on our shelves produced using GMO and we wear and use cotton which is mostly GMO fibre, and we eat cheese and other foods that have been made using GMO microbes. …

“The legislation is now almost two decades old and well out of step with the rapid advancement in science and the large amount of scientific evidence regarding the risks and benefits of genetic technologies. …

“Scientifically and commercially the benefits of genetic technologies have outweighed risks (recorded in multiple analyses after over 20 years of commercial and scientific activity). New Zealand needs to be able to responsibly choose genetic options for the future based on the scientific evidence.

“Since the legislation was introduced, we have become very risk averse; costs for applications for permission to evaluate technologies has risen sharply and, as evidenced by the reduction in field trials under containment, this is blocking innovation and opportunities that should be explored. …

“In its current interpretation the law says many plants currently growing in New Zealand are now defined as GMOs. This means that in essence many people are growing such plants illegally because they have not gone through the proper EPA process.

“However, much more change is needed to the legislation to make it workable and less costly for research and business, and to promote true evaluation of the opportunities that allows benefits and risks to be assessed.

“New Zealand is a biological country and is likely to miss opportunities to capitalise on the benefits on GMO plants, including impacts that are positive for climate change and greenhouse gas emissions and our future liabilities under Kyoto and later agreements.”

The Science Media Centre has abridged these comments – the full comments are available on its website.
Assoc Prof Peter Dearden, Director of Genetics Otago, comments:

“The EPA is seeking submissions on a change to the legislation which is driven by a high court decision last year that indicated problems with the current legislation. What was pointed out by the high court is that commonly and widely used techniques, not thought of as genetic modification, are not exempt from the legislation, even though that was the intention.

“Normal selective breeding requires breeders to identify variant plants or animals, and select those with desirable characteristics. If there is not enough variation, or not the variation that is wanted, breeders can use radiation or chemical mutagens to make new variants. These chemicals or radiation cause small changes in DNA in random places, producing variants that can then be selected. These techniques are commonly used and underpin, for example, the green revolution, which had a huge positive impact in food production.

“The current legislation suggests that these techniques should be classed as genetic modification, and the organisms involved treated as genetically modified. This would have a huge effect on plant breeding and food production in particular in New Zealand, as most new varieties of plants are produced in this way.

“The changes suggested by the EPA will tidy up this problem, and will not affect the way we currently deal with genetic modification in industry or research.”

Declarations of interest:

Elspeth McCrae: Scion is involved in research using genetic modification and its EPA application was the subject of the High Court case mentioned above.

No other declarations received.