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.

Predator control, 1080 and Green refusal to allow GE science

The Provincial Growth Fund seems to be in part a fund for whatever policies Shane Jones wants to promote. And so it seems with a predator control announcement.

But funding for innovative new means of control seems to be suffering, with Jones and NZ First wanting to move away from use of 1080 use , but the Greens refusing to allow research that has anything to do with genetic modification.

Newsroom:  Political dead rat a win for 1080 protesters?

Tired of being harangued by anti-1080 campaigners, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones is welcoming a $19.5 million Provincial Growth Fund investment to be spent on the development of new predator control tools and techniques as alternatives to the pesticide.

The funding will be used by Crown-owned Predator Free 2050 to encourage research and development of new tools, as well as to contract predator control projects for rural and forested land.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said it would help “stimulate rapid innovation” hopefully resulting in more effective traps, lures, remote sensing, surveillance and data management technologies. The Government hopes these new innovative techniques will reduce the need for 1080 to maintain predator-free status in areas where predators have been eradicated.

Sage was keen to emphasise that the Government was not backing down on 1080, but looking for innovative alternatives to use in addition to the pesticide, which has been the focus of nationwide protests, marches and the reported abuse of DOC staff.

However, comments by Shane Jones, and posts on the New Zealand First Facebook page, may give heart to anti-1080 campaigners that their protests have swayed the Government’s coalition partner – even though the funding of new pest-control technology is something that has long had all-party support.

On Facebook, the party is promoting the investment, with posts reading: “We’re doing our best to render 1080 redundant. New Zealand First has maintained its opposition to 1080 and that with adequate resources, research and development into alternatives, we can replace it.”

Northland is home to many of the anti-1080 protesters, as well as to Jones.

There seems to be conflicts between Greens and Jones on the us of 1080.

But what are the realistic alternatives to 1080?

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.”

Officials have signalled GE could be an effective alternative to 1080.

“It could be efficient and much more cost-effective method of pest control than conventional approaches.

“For potential application to replace knockdown tools such as aerial 1080, they would be most effective for short generation pests such as rodents, and less effective for longer generation pests such as stoats and possums, due to their requirement to spread over generations.”

Despite that, Ms Sage penned a Letter of Expectation to Predator Free 2050 Limited, explicitly telling the company not to invest in research into the technology.

The letter:

Newshub’s also obtained a number of emails written by the minister that reveal her personal position on the technology.

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.”

So is it Government policy that any research into predator control involving genetic modification is banned?

National’s conservation spokesperson Sarah Dowie said the Government is refusing to look into the potential benefits because it’s blinded by ideology.

“I think she’s been captured by her ideology, [and] that’s not a good thing,” Ms Dowie said.

“National’s all about the science. We think good science should inform conservation policy, and if we want our children to experience kiwi, tui, takahe in the wild – because that’s a New Zealand legacy – we need to have these conversations and make a decision moving forward.

It seems that while Greens are in Government science is limited to what fits within their rigid ideologies, which includes a staunch anti-GE stance.

Genetic modification is also contentious as a potential means of reducing carbon emissions.

Genetic modification, carbon emissions and the Greens

An interesting discussion at The Standard yesterday on genetic modification in New Zealand, in general and how this relates to the Green party anti-GE stance.

Andre kicked it off with:

Genetic modification to dramatically improve photosynthetic efficiency. It could help us deal with the challenges of a world on its way to 10 billion humans. If only the rabids can get over their blind kneejerk opposition to genetic modification *because Monsanto*.

https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/01/re-engineering-photosynthesis-gives-plants-a-40-growth-boost/

Greens are faced with a dilemma if GE can provide a viable means of reducing carbon emissions.

“Your argument that selective breeding is comparative to GE is, to speak plainly, plainly bullshit.”

They’re different tools for doing the same job, with GE being a faster and more precise tool. Someone who chooses to protect in a plant a natural mutation that’s useful to the person but would be evolutionarily disadvantageous to the plant isn’t taking a “holistic” or “natural” approach any more than a genetic engineer does. They’re both just using the tools they have to achieve a desired outcome.

Your statements about “breaking the planet” and biodiversity are claims about human population growth and industrial farming in general, not genetic engineering in particular. The entire planet could outlaw GE tomorrow and the problems you’re referring to would still exist, and could conceivably be worse. This is a common problem with the arguments of GE opponents, ie the arguments often do not support the conclusions claimed.

https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-05-01-19/#comment-1568502

But there’s a lot more to the issue than this. There are a lot of arguments and discussions. I don’t have time at the moment to try to summarise. Discussions are in several threads:

https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-05-01-19/#comment-1568075

https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-05-01-19/#comment-1568107

https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-05-01-19/#comment-1568076

The threats of President by Twitter

Just as well Robert  Muldoon didn’t have Twitter, he meddled and tried to manage a lot of things himself, and the country ended up nearly going broke.

However Donald Trump seems to be trying to influence a lot of things via Twitter.

ODT: Trump threatens border tax on GM

President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to impose a “big border tax” on General Motors Co for making some of its Chevrolet Cruze compact cars in Mexico, an arrangement the largest American automaker defended as part of its strategy to serve global customers, not sell them in the United States.

Trump’s comments on Tuesday marked his latest broadside aimed at an American company over jobs, imports and costs before he takes office on January 20, signaling an uncommon degree of intervention for an incoming US president into corporate affairs.

“General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to US car dealers-tax free across border. Make in USA. or pay big border tax!” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

Trump did not provide further details but previously vowed to hit companies that shift production from America to other countries with a 35% tax on their exports into the US. He also has denounced the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada.

If he taxes US companies for manufacturing offshore for international markets he will make some of them uncompetitive, and it will impact on their viability in the domestic market.

That’s a significant potential threat to the US economy.

President by Twitter could be a bigger threat.