OPINION: In this guest post from Zelka Linda Grammer, she argues “good intentions” are not enough to justify deregulating genetic modification.
Our farming family is rapt that the Minister for the Environment, the Honourable David Parker continues to oppose any outdoor experiments, field trials or releases of genetically modified organisms (including gene edited organisms) in New Zealand.
Such controversial and risky experimentation would have adverse impacts on existing GM-free primary producers (whether conventional, IPM or organic), and their access to key markets and premiums. It would also undermine our 100% Pure NZ brand, biosecurity, food sovereignty, cultural values and Zero Tolerance Policy for any GE/GMO content in imported seeds.*
David Parker is rather well informed on the risks of outdoor use of GE/GMOs, and has worked constructively for years with many councils including Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, and Hawkes Bay councils. Hastings District Council has achieved an outright ban on all outdoor GMOs for the duration of the District Plan, supporting the wishes of farmers and other ratepayers to protect their regional economy. This gives the area a strong marketing advantage, while protecting the environment.
We share the concerns of many Kiwis about climate change, but plans by irresponsible
parties (including overseas multinational companies) to develop and release GMO grasses, clovers, trees or animals in New Zealand – claiming that these would help address climate change – are ill-advised and of particular concern. Such new organisms would be impossible to prevent from contaminating our public lands and conservation estate (where unwanted new organisms are already a major problem), existing GM-free agriculture, horticulture, apiculture, forestry, and the wider environment.
What’s more, the law is not strong enough to make those who wish to experiment with GMOs pay for any adverse effects of EPA approved GE/GMO applications – meaning that the liability for any clean-up is foisted on local ratepayers or taxpayers in general.
Those who claim that the risks of outdoor use of GMOs are “negligible” should back themselves- and be personally and financially responsible for harm caused.
“Good intentions” are not enough.
While we strongly support addressing climate change, experimentation with or use of such risky new genetic technologies would be counterproductive, and potentially create far more serious problems than desired solutions. Adverse impacts of GMOs can be irreversible.
Genome editing can be imprecise, and cause unexpected and unpredictable effects. There has been mounting evidence over the last two years, documented in various reputable peer-reviewed scientific publications, of the imprecision and unpredictability of the CRISPR technique. Many studies have now shown that genome editing can create genetic errors.
This can lead to unexpected and unpredictable outcomes, such as changes in protein composition in the resulting GMO. Genome-editing techniques can create unintended changes (“off-target effects”) to genes that were not the target of the editing system. For example, using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique can result in unintended edits to the host’s DNA at additional sites to the target location.
Simple solutions already exist that don’t involve risky and controversial GMOs such as CRISPR gene-edited organisms. Sound science is already helping deliver solutions to the livestock methane problem, and farmers and foresters are already acting to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand.
For example, NZ CRI AgResearch scientists have been using selective breeding to
successfully produce sheep that emit lower levels of methane. In addition, the lower methane emitting animals also appear to have leaner meat and grow more wool.
At the World Food Centre (University of California, Davis), agricultural scientist Ermias Kebreab and his team have undertaken extensive and timely research into the benefits of adding small amounts of seaweed in animal feed. They found that cows belched out 82% less methane after small amounts of seaweed were put into their feed for five months.
There are significant deficiencies in the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act, in terms of outdoor GMO applications – but this does not mean the Act or regulations should be loosened. On the contrary! Deficiencies in HSNO– as identified by Local Government NZ, many councils, primary producer boards, and local mana whenua – include inadequate liability provisions in case something goes wrong (damage, contamination, cross-pollination, wild escape etc.), and no mandatory requirement for the EPA to take a precautionary approach.
Remaining GM-free in our environment benefits primary producers, consumers, ratepayers, and the complex and interdependent biodiversity in our many ecosystems.
*this includes adventitious presence
Linda is a member of Rural Women NZ, chair of GE FREE Tai Tokerau, and has endured the hype/spin of pro-biotech developers for way too long.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent or reflect those of The Looking Glass.