Federated Farmers disappointed by Green Party’s disagreement with Sir Peter Gluckman on GE

Climate change Minister James Shaw, questioned in Parliament yesterday, said he stood by his statement during an interview on Q+A last month that when it comes to the application of GE technology in New Zealand, he”will be led by the science on it.”

But Federated Farmers is disappointed that Mr Shaw proceeded to disagree with the former Prime Minister’s chief scientist, Sir Peter Gluckman, who said “I’ll go as far as to say that I cannot see a way that agriculture in New Zealand will be sustainable over the long run in the face of environmental change and consumer preferences without using gene editing.”

Nor did Mr Shaw agree with Sir Peter when he said “There is no way that we will get a reduction in methane production, and I can see no way that we will see an economic advantage for farmers as we shift to more plant-based foods, without using gene editing.” Continue reading

James Shaw’s regard for science may portend a shift in Green position on GM research

Towards the end of the Prime Minister’s press conference on February 25, someone without much to think about asked Jacinda Ardern what she thought of Huawei’s public relations campaign that compared itself in New Zealand to the All Blacks?

The PM was appropriately dismissive:

It’s not for me to judge the marketing campaign of any private company. All right, thank you, everyone. Last question—I’m feeling generous.

We can be grateful she was of a generous disposition.  The final question raised an issue of interest to agricultural and horticultural scientists:

Media: Are you concerned that your Conservation Minister is blocking any exploration into genetic engineering despite her officials saying that it could be an effective alternative to 1080?

PM: Look, my understanding is that the Minister’s simply expressed that that’s not currently part of the work programme, but hasn’t given a position as definitive as that. Continue reading

RNZ report gives succinct rundown on the issues surrounding genetic modification

Offsetting Behaviour, an economics blog, has steered us to Radio NZ’s “good summary” of the case for allowing genetically modified plants and crops.

The RNZ Insight report, by Charlie Dreaver, is headed Has the time come for Genetic Modification?

It starts with a sub-heading: Gene edited plants are just as safe as normal plants, according to one scientist.

According to several scientists, actually.

But in this case Ms Dreaver is reporting on her visit to a Plant and Food Research greenhouse in Auckland, where one of the sections is filled with $300 apple trees and Andy Allan, a professor of plant biology, is pointing out one of his favourite experiment, a tree with bright, fuchsia-coloured flowers.

“The particular red gene we’re testing is under a strong expression, so the roots are red, the trunk is red, the leaves are copper and the fruit goes on to look more like a plum, it’s so dark.”

The apple has an extra apple gene, making it genetically modified. Other plants in this room have exactly the same number of genes, but they’ve been edited.

The report goes on:

“Along with the apples, pears, tomatoes and petunias are thriving, but many also flower all year round and produce seeds five years earlier than usual. 

“Mr Allen compares the practice of gene editing in plant breeding to key-hole surgery.

” ‘It just makes a cut in a place you know exactly where it’s going to go to.

” ‘That cut is repaired by the plant, but often the plant makes a mistake, but those mistakes are like the natural equivalent to mutation and variants you see out there in the environment.’ 

“He says the public’s perception of the research is much more sinister than what actually happens.

” ‘We are academics or public civil servants and we’re doing experiments using the plant’s own DNA, so the perception of what we do as being evil or dangerous, is way different than what actually happens in this greenhouse’.”

Other countries would plant these crops in the field, he tells Ms Dreaver, and he believes some of those growing in the greenhouse are ready for the outside world.

” ‘I think these plants are as safe as the normal plants are, there is risk associated with everything, but there are no additional risks associated with these plants.’

“And the benefits of what’s being grown could be significant, he believes, including trees which would not need cooler winters to flower and grow fruit.

“But everything that leaves the facility, even the soil, will have to be destroyed.

“The only thing exiting this greenhouse at the moment is knowledge.”

The item answers the question What is Gene Editing? And it reports the division among farmers on whether they should be able to use GMOs or not.

“But others, including the Minister for the Environment David Parker, argue there is no need to jump the gun on introducing GMOs into the environment.”

Ms Dreaver also quotes the former Chief Science Advisor for the prime minister, Sir Peter Gluckman.

In his last report, Sir Peter laid out the ways genetic modification or gene editing can benefit the agricultural sector with pasture management and emissions.

“New Zealand scientists have developed promising forages using genetic technologies that could be used to make major progress through higher energy, lipid rich rye grasses which are now in field trials in the United States.

“However, these have not been and effectively cannot be subjected to field testing in New Zealand.”

Sir Peter said New Zealand needed to revisit the contentious topic.

“We have such big challenges ahead of us, between environmental degradation, climate change, the future of agriculture, the future of New Zealand’s economy, the way we live, the way rural life and provincial life occurs.

“This is the core technology of the future, alongside the digital technologies and precision agriculture, we can’t afford not to have the conversation.”

Ms Dreaver concludes her piece with a rundown on GM and the law.

Legal and Scientific researcher Dr Julie Everett-Hincks, from the University of Otago, told Ms Dreaver she believes legislation is due for an update.

To the contrary, Pure Hawke’s Bay – which was instrumental in the move to make the Hastings District Council adopt a  10 year moratorium on genetically modified crops – says business would suffer if any changes were allowed and they argue that not enough is known about the technology and its effects.

There’s resistance to any change at this stage from the government.

Environment Minister David Parker agrees with the European Courts decision to include GE under genetic modification rules and has no intention of changing the legislation here.

” ‘It takes a precautionary approach, people who want to make an application to release the GMO can, that’s then dealt with by the regulator and we think the law is fit for purpose.

” ‘I’d have to be satisfied there was a need to change the law, and I’m not satisfied’.”

He also highlights the trade benefits in keeping crops GM-free.

” ‘Sometimes they might be overstated, but none the less they are real’.”

If there are to be any changes in the use of GM, Mr Parker says the government will first be looking at pest control, rather than agriculture.

Offsetting Behaviour blogger Eric Crampton suggests that, as part of any agricultural accession into the ETS, the Crown be liable for any additional costs falling on farmers because of the ban on using GE pastoral systems.

O’Connor’s speech on NZ agriculture, food production and GHG overlooked Sir Peter’s advice on GM

The Point of Order blog credited Agriculture  Minister  Damian  O’Connor  with delivering a good speech to the International Conference on Agricultural GHG Emissions and Food Security  this week.

He  told   his audience the global community needs more food of a higher quality and with less environmental impact than ever before, and New Zealand, with its low population density and a temperate climate, is ideal for agricultural production. He said: 

Through innovation and impressive productivity gains, helped by the removal of agricultural subsidies and tariffs in the 1980s, NZ can produce more food, more efficiently than ever before.

“We are not a large agricultural producer in global terms; our low population means we export a high proportion of our production. We’re the number 1 dairy exporter in the world, but produce only 3% of the world’s milk. We’re the number 6 beef exporter in the world, but  produce only 6% of the world’s beef.

“We live in the South-West Pacific, where our winters coincide with the North’s summers. This means NZ is in a position to supply food to the 90% of the global population who live in the Northern Hemisphere, outside of the North’s growing season”.

In the  drive to  reduce  agricultural  emissions, NZ is making a significant investment in research and development. Mr O’Connor drew attention to this:

“In the livestock sector we’ve found promising leads. Working with others, we’ve measured thousands of animals and have been able to identify some that emit lower levels of methane.

“We’ve screened hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds and isolated a handful that have large potential to reduce emissions. We’re undertaking world-leading research to try to develop a vaccine to reduce methane from livestock”.

The Minister continued by noting that the  Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change research programme was established

  • To help NZ meet international greenhouse gas reduction goals,
  • Maintain profitable and sustainable agriculture and forestry sectors, and
  • Address the lack of information on the impacts, implications and adaptations needed in the face of a changing climate.

In  the decade since its inception more than 150 projects have been funded with $50m from government– some with returns 10 times the original public investment.

But another 2.3 billion people will join the world’s human population by 2050. Feeding them means more food will have to be produced in the next 50 years than in the past 500.

If  NZ is to play its part  in boosting food production, Point of Order thought it was strange that Mr O’Connor omitted  from his speech any reference  to  the advice Sir Peter  Gluckman has been  giving the government.

In his final report as the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, Sir  Peter contended NZ must revise its moratorium on genetic modification to access the most promising innovations to reduce agricultural emissions.

The July paper to the PM says farmers can take  immediate steps to start reducing agricultural emissions – but for NZ to make meaningful steps it will need to embrace technological innovations.

And  the most promising technologies rely on genetic engineering.

Those technologies include transgenic forage plants which reduce livestock emissions, transgenic endophytes which inhibit nitrogen, and GE forestry to accelerate tree growth for afforestation.

The  report noted social licence for these technologies does not exist in NZ.

“However, given the progression of science on one hand and a broader understanding of the crisis of climate change on the other, not having a further discussion of these technologies at some point may limit our options.”

A big political question is raised by this:  will the Labour-led  coalition  ignore the advice  of  someone as eminent as  Sir Peter  Gluckman  and sidestep the use of  GM  technologies,  when  clearly  they would  be the  most effective instruments to  reduce  agricultural emissions  while at the same  time expanding  production of  the  food the  world  so  urgently  will need?

Sir Peter reports on the mitigation of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions

Arguments for focusing on carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide and giving less emphasis to methane are counter-productive, Sir Peter Gluckman says in a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern which accompanies his final report as the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor. Therefore he does not favour avoiding a focus on methane, despite the challenges such a focus creates.

He also says it it unrealistic to imagine a GHG-neutral profile from agriculture without offsets in various forms.

Those views are reflected in Sir Peter’s final report, which has been published today.  It is entitled Mitigating agricultural greenhouse gas emissions: Strategies for meeting New Zealand’s goals

The report’s conclusions are driven by consideration of the highly variable nature of New Zealand geography, soil types, climate, and farming systems, Sir Peter says in his letter to Ms Ardern.

This heterogeneity creates challenges for generalisation and identifying the best ways to proceed. There are actions that farmers can now take that will have some impact on GHG emissions, and some near-term technologies that could have further effect if further developed for and adopted into NZ farming systems. But

” … there is no current or foreseeable methodology that will provide an accurate measure of GHG emissions on an individual farm, nor of what any particular mitigation measure might achieve at a farm level. This has major implications for how to proceed.

“Emissions at an individual farm level can only be estimated through proxy measures using scientific models such as OVERSEER, which is subject to some debate over its utility as a direct regulatory tool across a range of farm types, and has other issues that currently limit its usefulness. Taking these factors into account, one option that seems feasible is to use a ‘farm plan’ approach whereby a farmer, with expert advice and science-based input, identifies mitigation strategies he/she will be accountable for adhering to.

“Compliance or otherwise with an appropriate farm plan could extend to other dimensions of environmental management and to animal welfare and could be linked to any market or regulatory incentive scheme. Such an approach would require greater focus on the skillset of appropriately accredited farm advisors.”

The report highlights where scientific and policy focus should be concentrated, and outlines actions in terms of farmer and industry practices as well as research and investment to speed up the development of the most promising abatement technologies and better quantification of GHG emissions.

Sir Peter says:

“In some cases, issues of social acceptance and regulatory approvals will need to be addressed pre-emptively. It is likely that significant trade-offs will be required and there will be conflicting views: these should be acknowledged.”

Sir Peter recalls in the letter his first meeting with Ms Ardern to discuss her priorities for his Office after she became Prime Minister. She asked him to report back on what the agricultural sector could do over the near and intermediate term to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, enabling  New Zealand to track more effectively towards meeting its commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate action, and ultimately, the government’s carbon-neutral goal.

The letter says:

“New Zealand is seen internationally as an efficient producer of high quality food and will remain a major agricultural producer into the foreseeable future. However, maintaining agriculture’s central role in our export economy will require the sector to be increasingly sympathetic to the environment. Part of that must include reducing its contributions to greenhouse gas (GHG) production, and this could be done over time probably without substantive impacts on productivity or economic returns. But doing so will likely require some complex trade-offs, consideration of new technologies, and significant changes in farming practice and land use.

“In order to fully understand the landscape, my Office convened two large expert group meetings of governmental, farming and food sector stakeholders and have met with many experts from relevant sectors in smaller groups to discuss the opportunities and challenges in this complex area.

“My Office canvassed expert opinion on specific mitigation options and we have reviewed the scientific literature, including draft copies of analyses commissioned by the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG), a joint government and sector working group (due for public release in September 2018). I understand that the Productivity Commission, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and Interim Climate Change Committee (with whom I have met) will be providing Government with further evidence and/or advice on these and related issues in the future.”

Sir Peter’s report aims to present a high-level perspective on what would be needed to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and greater offsets, in the agricultural sector. It integrates the work of various research efforts in New Zealand and abroad, briefly reviews available on-farm mitigation options, highlights emerging opportunities, and identifies gaps in knowledge or other barriers that need to be overcome if agriculture is to be included in the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), or any other policy mechanism.

The executive summary says agriculture – in contrast to the power and transport sectors – has fewer options to make large emissions reductions quickly and cost-effectively.

“Obligating farmers to reduce their emissions should not impose a disproportionate burden on them relative to their international competitors, nor relative to other sectors within New Zealand. There are no zero-emission strategies for biological GHGs, yet there are many reasons to act aggressively to reduce their emissions. This goes beyond arguments of short-lived versus long-lived gases; there are also strong market and reputational reasons for driving down agricultural emissions while making farms more efficient and sustainable.

“Methane and nitrous oxide are the main GHG emissions occurring on farms. Methane, derived mainly from enteric fermentation in ruminant livestock, is a short-lived gas, but one that has contributed most to the sector’s increasing emissions since 1990.

“Although methane does not accumulate in the atmosphere like CO2 does, it has potent effects on near-term warming, and this potency increases with increasing rates of methane emissions over time. While noting that methane emissions from agriculture cannot, and need not be, reduced to zero, reducing global methane emissions quickly will impact the peak warming temperature and the rate at which CO2 emissions need to be reduced.

“The metrics used to account for the different gases are important, particularly if biological GHGs are to be included in the ETS or similar mechanism at any level, as different metrics have implications for carbon, nitrous oxide and methane budgets.

“Strategies exist now that can help reduce biological GHGs, but currently, individual strategies are only expected to have modest effects on total emissions reduction, and there are trade-offs between possible options that will require careful consideration at an individual farm situation.”

The main strategies relate to:

• On-farm land-use decisions that reduce GHG emissions per unit of land area or increase carbon sinks – including forestry and other tree plantings, and horticulture blocks.

• Feeding practices, grazing and pasture management – including forage selection and the balance between stocking rates per hectare and individual performance per animal.

• Animal husbandry including breeding for high genetic merit in terms of breeding, productivity and emissions profiles.

• Animal housing and effluent management

• Precision-farming techniques – including irrigation and fertiliser management

“Apart from substantial land-use change, reducing livestock numbers and afforestation, the report says, the main opportunities to reduce emissions significantly will depend on technological innovations; for example the development of market-acceptable nitrification inhibitors, and to rumen methane inhibitors such as 3NOP for use in pastoral systems.

“Developing a methanogen-inhibiting vaccine holds theoretical promise for reducing methane emissions across all ruminant livestock systems but no proof-of-concept in animals yet exists.

“A mission-led approach to research will continue to be needed. Social science research is also required to understand how best to encourage early adopters and to enhance uptake of effective strategies across the sector. For the longer term, unravelling the regulatory and social licence issues around the use of new and evolving technologies will be critical for continuing scientific advancement as part of the national effort to reduce New Zealand’s largest sources of GHGs.

Despite the many scientific, economic and implementation challenges, failure to take actions within the agricultural sector will not only be costly to those farmers who find themselves unprepared for change, it will also ultimately be costly to New Zealand.”

NZIAHS forum reminder: The NZIAHS forum, to be held in Science House in Wellington on Friday, is titled Agriculture and the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS): How do we enable farmers to respond?

Source: Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor

How some GM seasoning made possible the Impossible Burger

Air New Zealand’s readiness to dish up The Impossible Burger to a very few premium-paying passengers has prompted scientist Siouxsie Wiles to ask: so what is all the fuss about?

She concludes her article on the topic with a call to revisit genetic modification technologies and their applications – for example – to predator control and healthcare.

Her kickoff point is Air New Zealand’s announcement that Business Premier “foodies” on their Los Angeles to Auckland flights would be able to try out the “plant-based goodness” that is the Impossible Burger.

Lamb + Beef New Zealand, which represents sheep and beef farmers, is clearly peeved that our national carrier wouldn’t rather showcase some great Kiwi “grass-fed, free range, GMO free, naturally raised” beef and lamb instead.

Mark Patterson, New Zealand First’s spokesperson for Primary Industries, even went as far as to put out a press release calling the announcement an “existential threat to New Zealand’s second-biggest export earner”.

Meanwhile, vegetarians on social media are left a bit puzzled as to why Patterson is so against them having a special vegetarian option for dinner. My guess is it’s because the Impossible Burger is no ordinary veggie burger.

The Impossible Burger – Dr Wiles explains – is one company’s response to the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population using our current land-hungry, water-thirsty, pollution-heavy and extinction-inducing ways of producing food.

The Impossible Burger is the culmination of years of scientific research to create a vegetarian alternative to the humble minced beef burger patty that has the look, smell and taste of a delicious juicy burger but without the environmental impact that comes with farming cows. And that’s because the Impossible Burger isn’t aimed at vegetarians. It’s aimed at meat-eaters. And to make it appeal to the most committed carnivores amongst us it uses genetic modification technology.

The Impossible Burger is the first commercial offering from Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley start-up founded by Pat Brown, an Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford University.

Dr Wiles has tapped into the company’s website to learn that the Impossible Burger is made of water, textured wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, soy leghaemoglobin, yeast extract, salt, soy protein isolate, konjac gum, xanthan gum, zinc, niacin, and vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12 and C.

The burger sizzles like a beef burger patty while cooking thanks to the coconut oil, and chars and browns like a beef burger patty because of the potato protein. It has a chewy texture too, apparently, because Pat Brown and his team have figured out how to convert their mixture of plant and other ingredients into something that mimics the fibrous nature and tensile strength of animal connective tissue.

Dr Wiles then brings genetic modification into her considerations:

The ingredient that puts the Impossible Burger ahead of its competitors, and will no doubt have the anti-GM protesters up in arms, is the soy leghaemoglobin.

Haem (also known as heme) is an iron-containing molecule that binds oxygen. As haemoglobin, haem gives our blood it’s characteristic red colour and metallic taste, while as myoglobin it gives red meat its characteristic red or pink colour, as well as contributing to its smell and taste when cooked.

Leghaemoglobin is a form of haem found in the root nodules of leguminous plants like soybeans. Here it binds oxygen to protect a process crucial to the health of the plant: the harvesting of nitrogen from the air by symbiotic bacteria called rhizobia.

This nitrogen is then converted into compounds the plant needs to grow and compete with other plants. And just like haemoglobin and myoglobin, leghaemoglobin is also reddish-pink. If you cut into the root nodule of a soybean plant it looks like its bleeding.

Rather than digging up acres and acres of soy plants to harvest their leghaemoglobin, Brown and his team genetically engineered a strain of yeast to produce it instead. That way they can grow the yeast in big vats and sustainably harvest huge quantities of leghaemoglobin.

Although the yeast the leghaemoglobin comes from is genetically engineered, the leghaemoglobin itself is identical to that naturally found in the soy plants. And as the leghaemoglobin is separated away from the yeast after the fermentation process, the Impossible Burger doesn’t contain anything that is genetically modified.

Dr Wiles draws attention to something the outgoing Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Sir Peter Gluckman, said a few days ago: we are long overdue a really serious chat about genetic modification.  And not just about the science behind the Impossible Burger.

Dr Wiles points out.

Genetic modification technologies might be the only way we can really achieve our goal of being predator free. The Royal Society Te Apārangi have produced some good resources to explain what the new genetic modification technologies are, as well as some discussion papers on how the technologies may apply to predator control and healthcare.

So, what do you say New Zealand? Let’s talk.

Her article first appeared on The Spinoff.

She has written about The Impossible Burger and the future of food in the book Kai and Culture: Food Stories from Aotearoa, edited by Emma Johnson, and published by Freerange Press.

Source: Science Media Centre

Sir Peter declares GM organisms safe during change-of-job interviews

The changing of the guard in the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor’s office, and media coverage of outgoing chief scientist Sir Peter Gluckman handing over to his successor, Professor Juliet Gerrard, is the subject of a Science Media Centre post.

Genetic modification was among the issues discussed by Sir Peter, who spoke to Kim Hill on Radio NZ and Corin Dann on TVNZ’s Q&A at the weekend.

Talking with Corin Dann, Sir Peter said genetically modified organisms continued to be heavily debated despite the science being as “settled as it will be” and evidence showed they were safe.

“There are no significant ecological or health concerns associated with the use of advanced genetic technologies,” he said.

“That does not mean that society automatically will accept them. And what we need is a conversation which we’ve not had in a long time that, I think, needs to be more constructive and less polarised than in the past.”

Sir Peter aired the issue of meth testing when interviewed by Kim Hill on Radio NZ.

Prof Gerrard was interviewed by Newshub Nation, where she said the issue of meth testing had been a “really useful case study for me, to see how the scientific evidence was presented and how that was turned into policy”.

“It would’ve been helpful if the scientific evidence had been ahead of the policy decision making. So my top priority is to understand the programme of Government, see where the science advice is going to be needed and to make sure we get that expert opinion in ahead.”

Sir Peter and Prof Gerrard were both interviewed by the NZ Herald last week as well.

Source:  Science Media Centre

Now let’s get a gee-up for GM from Sir Peter, science writer urges

Science writer Bob Brockie today is calling for the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, to do for GE what he did for P.

Two weeks ago, he observes, Sir Peter debunked the idea that traces of methamphetamine are a health hazard.

He says there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the idea.

Rather surprisingly, the government has taken the scientist’s assertion on board and is keen to right the wrongs of previous policies. Usually, scientific evidence goes in one government ear and out the other, but this time it looks as though three hundred wrongly-evicted tenants might get some sort of compensation and thousands more relieved that they won’t be thrown out of their homes.

Dr Brockie then notes Sir Peter’s persistent urging of the the government and other public agencies

” … to pay more attention to scientific evidence instead of basing policy on gut feelings, fashionable beliefs, needless fear, gossip, conspiracy theories, noisy ill-informed fanatics, and shock/horror media headlines.”

And so….

“We now look forward to the day when the science adviser similarly debunks government and public attitudes towards genetic engineering.”

Dr Brockie references recent substantial reviews of GE by the British Royal Society, the British Medical Association and the American Academy of Science and Medicine which concluded that GE has never harmed anybody or any thing.

Indeed the societies claim that GE only does good. The world’s 28 million GE farmers have increased their crop yields by 22%, their incomes by 66%, and reduced their use of pesticides by 37%. And, for that matter, over 60 000 grateful New Zealand diabetics daily inject themselves with GE insulin with no complaints. Claims that GE is a health hazard to man and beast, or that it degrades the soil or the environment get no support from the top scientific societies

But this is not what we hear incessantly from ‘GE-Free New Zealand’ and Greenpeace. Based purely on gut instinct and misinformation, these paranoid luddites spread fear and loathing about genetic engineering. They suppose that they occupy the high moral ground on these issues but are really shouting in a benighted abyss of ignorance.

And so – Dr Brockie concludes – it is time to step up and debunk the claims of GE-Free-NZ and Greenpeace because “there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these fear-mongers”.

Evidential input into the policy process – a defence against the rise of post-truth polemic.

Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, today released a report on “Enhancing evidence-informed policy making”.

Prime Minister Key last year asked Sir Peter to further review the state of New Zealand’s science advisory mechanisms to update his earlier report in 2013. Prime Minister English reaffirmed this request.

Sir Peter said protecting and enhancing evidential input into the policy process is an important defence against the rise of post-truth polemic.

The New Zealand science advisory system has matured into one that is well regarded
internationally, he said. Nevertheless, globally there has been increasing concern about risks to the effective interface between science and public policy.

The rise of post-trust and post-expert rhetoric elsewhere has influenced public policy decisions, “a situation which New Zealand has fortunately thus far largely been spared, but we cannot be complacent”.

In his covering letter to the Prime Minister Sir Peter says:

“The worrisome rise of ‘post-truth’ polemic and the greater and easier promulgation of ‘false news’ that we have seen globally in recent times can be seen as threats to the democratic process, social cohesion and good governance. I believe that a commitment to protect and enhance the evidential input into the policy process is an increasingly important defence against these trends.”

The report discusses the development of Departmental Science Advisors, a major
development since 2013, and the role of the Committee of Science Advisors (CoSA).

It explores in depth the relationship between academia and policy making, identifying the perceptional and actual barriers that have inhibited better engagement of the policy and academic communities.

The role, opportunities and limits on the use of big data in evidence-informed policy making are discussed, particularly in the context of the development of the social investment approach.

The increasing importance of the science advisory system in risk management, crises and emergencies is a further focus of the report.

Some other dimensions such as horizon scanning and foresighting are briefly discussed.

There will always remain complexities at the interface between science and policy, Sir Peter said. Between science and society this largely relates to matters of effective engagement, transparency and accessibility of expertise.

The report is available HERE.

Report explains the science of NZ’s freshwater estate

Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, has released a report designed to assist in understanding the complexity of issues surrounding the condition and stewardship of our freshwater.

With growing interest in the state of New Zealand’s freshwaters and the policy decisions needed to ensure stewardship of the estate, the report aims to provide common understandings of the scientific and technical knowledge on which freshwater ecosystem management should be based. In doing so, the paper acknowledges the many  values New Zealanders place on freshwater and the different diversity of stakeholders.

The report provides an overview of the issues and a technical analysis for those who wish to explore the science further.

“My office started working on this report nearly a year ago, recognising the complexity of decisions and trade-offs that New Zealand faces between conserving our ecosystems and mitigating our agricultural, industrial and urban impacts,” said Sir Peter.

“Because of the Government’s recent ‘Clean Water’ consultation package, which includes proposed new approaches to defining ‘swimmability’, I thought it would be useful to accelerate the release of our report before the end of that consultation phase.”

Sir Peter’s report was developed with the assistance of the Freshwater Group at NIWA. It was reviewed by New Zealand and international academics and by the Departmental Science Advisors from the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Environment.

The intent was to ensure diverse scientific perspectives on the challenges presented by New Zealand’s varied river catchments, lakes, estuaries and wetlands could be fully explored.

The issues extend from understanding the influence of distinct landscapes and watersheds, climate, and the diversity of uses and values of freshwater systems, to the ecology of our native freshwater plants, fish, insects, and birds. The report explores the impacts of our pastoral agricultural system, urbanisation, industrialisation and climate change, and how these might be managed to maintain and restore New Zealand’s freshwater estate.

“Water is not a trivial issue for New Zealand and New Zealanders,” said Sir Peter.

“Our cultural and economic relationship to our land and water defines us, and I felt the importance of the issues merited a full explanation of all the freshwater science that informs them.”

The report is available on the PMCSA website HERE.