Can the Green door be opened to GE debate?

Greens look like remaining staunchly opposed to genetic engineering, but the national party is trying to push against this.

Last week from Newshub:  Govt blocking breakthrough technology that could make New Zealand predator-free

There’s a major roadblock within the Beehive over the role genetic engineering (GE) could play in a predator-free New Zealand by 2050.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has stopped any and all work being done to use GE technology, despite official advice suggesting it could be used to help rid New Zealand of predators.

But Ms Sage told Newshub she is not interested in going down the GE “rabbit hole”.

“We want to focus on existing tools, making them better and finding new tools without being diverted down the potential rabbit hole of GE research.”

In one email, she wrote: “Please be assured that the department is clear about my expectations regarding genetic technologies. It has informed me that there is no mammalian gene drive technology research currently occurring in New Zealand.

“I have also required Predator Free 2050 Ltd to carry out appropriate due diligence on any co-funded projects before agreeing on any contracts, and have explicitly required them not to be involved in any research with genetically modified organisms and technologies such as CRISPR or gene editing.”

In another email, the minister made a similar comment: “I have been clear about my expectations regarding such technologies.”

Official advice also said the technology has the potential to control pests “in a humane and efficient manner without inadvertently harming other species like native birds”.

But Ms Sage told Newshub the Government isn’t blocking work in the area, there’s just been no decision to advance any discussion in the area.

“There’s no public mandate to do any work in that space – it would be a major change in Government policy.”

Alex Braae (The Spinoff):  Door opened to GE Free debate

It has been one of the cornerstone policies of New Zealand environmentalism for the past two decades. New Zealand’s GE Free status has been maintained throughout our primary sector, meaning horticulture and agricultural products can be sold under the label. But it looks likely a thorny debate is about to get underway over whether that should be continued.

Why? The National Party is pushing for that debate to start, and they’re being backed by former chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman, reports Politik.

Sir Peter says we should be looking at relaxing rules gene editing – not quite the same thing as genetic modification, but not a million miles away either – here’s an excellent explainer that outlines the differences further down the page. It’s perhaps a bit disingenuous to describe it as a call for a debate too – intelligent people don’t call for debates on topics if they don’t intend to then win the argument.

In particular, the topic in question is a type of ryegrass currently being trialled in the USA, which when eaten by cows could reduce their methane emissions by up to 25%. New Zealand’s output of methane is a significant contributor to our total emissions, and the argument goes that finding ways to reduce that is the best contribution we could make to reducing global emissions.

It’s also entirely in line with National’s approach to climate change policy, which they want to have minimal economic impact, and be primarily driven by science and technology, rather than cutting production.

But would it actually have minimal economic impact? 

This piece on Pure Advantage’s website (an organisation that promotes cohesion between business and environmentalism) argues that any changes to policy in New Zealand could be incredibly damaging to our global brand.

It’s fair to say that the science isn’t fully settled on the full potential benefits and risks of gene editing and other related techniques. However, as the experts collated by the Science Media Centre last year pointed out, that’s because more research needs to happen, and they largely support that research taking place.

In this Stuff story, Minister Sage said there wasn’t a push from New Zealanders for the GE policy to be changed. But if a flashpoint issue were to emerge, that could change very quickly.

I doubt it will change much at all while the Greens are in Government.

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2 Comments

  1. Zedd

     /  26th February 2019

    methinks the Greens have perhaps decided that mass poisoning is better than breaking their staunch “NO GE” mantra.. BUT which is the ‘better evil’ ?

    OR is Ms Sage looking at ‘other viable options’ (not mentioned) ??

    Reply
  2. Ray

     /  26th February 2019

    It is almost funny the way the Party of “the science has proven” when it comes to climate but takes a contrary position on GE, vaccination or nuclear power and ignore any scientific proof that might show them the errors of their position.
    Human nature I guess but not something you usually think of when it comes to Greens.

    Reply

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