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The New Zealand International Science Festival and Genetics Otago yesterday held a luncheon in Prof Petersen's honour, attended by more than 70 people, at Knox College, Dunedin.
Prof Petersen (80) said yesterday New Zealand had benefited from taking a transparent but cautious approach to laboratory experiments involving genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including voluntary limitations initially imposed by DNA researchers themselves.
Also positive had been moves to raise public awareness of genetic modification-related issues and to take community opinion into account through a Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, established in 2000, he said in an interview.
Through its scientists taking an open and proactive approach, and by taking public opinion into account and later imposing statutory controls, New Zealand had avoided a popular backlash against all laboratory GMO research.
Such a backlash could have badly harmed New Zealand's science and economy, he said.
Prof Petersen helped establish and chaired for 20 years an informal committee which reported annually to Parliament and considered proposals by scientists wishing to undertake laboratory experiments with GMOs.
Prof Petersen long headed the Otago biochemistry department (1968-99) and in 2003 became the first Otago academic to be awarded the prestigious Rutherford Medal.
The programme for the latest Dunedin-based science festival (July 5-13) was also formally launched at yesterday's event.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull emphasised the Dunedin City Council's strong support for the festival as a positive event consistent with the council's aims to promote Dunedin as one of the world's best small cities.
Prof Petersen has been the festival's patron since 1998, and was yesterday awarded a festival life membership.