No GE needed in New Zealand

Philippa Jamieson. Photo: Martina Sandkuhler
Philippa Jamieson. Photo: Martina Sandkuhler
Genetic engineering is not required when organic farming has the solutions, writes Philippa Jamieson.

A recent report by the Royal Society Te Aparangi has called for ''an overhaul of gene-technology regulations and wide public discussion''.

Legally there's nothing to stop someone applying to field-test or commercially release GE organisms in Aotearoa New Zealand. Maybe the knowledge they'll face strong opposition is putting them off. Our laws are robust and precautionary.

If anything, our laws should be strengthened in the area of liability, so that if anything goes wrong, the users of GE (rather than citizens) are held liable for clean-up costs. Already New Zealand taxpayers have had to pay to clean up after GE trials have gone wrong, or companies have gone belly-up.

Former chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman has said that New Zealand could become a ''backwater'' if we don't loosen up our laws governing genetic engineering. The ODT editorial (19.8.19) also claimed we are ''in serious danger of becoming uncompetitive''.

On the contrary! We stand to gain by remaining GE-free, and even better, by transitioning towards organics. Demand for clean, green, GE-free, safe, healthy, ethical organic food is increasing year on year - around the world and here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Genetically engineered crops overseas have not lived up to the hype or hope.

Instead they have resulted in pesticide resistance and herbicide-resistant superweeds, crop failures leading to farmer suicides, and are used as part of unsustainable industrial monoculture agriculture. Animal feeding studies have raised health concerns.

The new gene editing techniques are not precise, as is often claimed. There are many ''off-target'' (unintended) effects with these technologies, and some will be unknown and undetected. Claims of safety therefore cannot be made.

GE ryegrass has been suggested as a way to reduce methane emissions from cattle. Even if this were shown to work long-term on the farm, what other effects might it have? What effect does it have on the animals? On the other plants in the paddock? On the soil and soil organisms? Rather than looking at things in isolation, we need to look at the complex interactions in ecosystems.

We cannot rely on unproven techno-fixes with unknown consequences, and use them as band-aids on top of intensive farming. We haven't got time to pin hopes on the possibility that GE ryegrass might be a silver bullet to reduce methane emissions.

The good news is that there's simply no need for GE. Let's get on with practical, holistic solutions that are already working - we already have solutions to mitigating climate change, cleaning up the environment and living within the limits of the earth.

I'm excited by the growing movement in farming towards organic and regenerative practices. Farmers using these practices are already reducing methane emissions by lowering stock numbers. Yet they don't suffer financially, because their input and animal health costs are also lower.

They're sequestering more carbon by using biological fertilisers and other practices that improve soil health. They're reducing run-off to waterways, and increasing biodiversity. They're creating a healthy environment and healthy food.

Across the Tasman, we have a shining example for New Zealand to follow. In a move strongly supported by primary producers, the Tasmanian Government has just voted to extend its GE moratorium for another 10 years. By implementing a ban on the outdoor use of GE, New Zealand would strengthen its clean and green brand.

Let's strive to live up to our reputation and grow food that's healthy for people and the planet. Organic and regenerative farming is better for our health, for the environment and the economy, with healthier soils, cleaner waterways, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. This is the direction the world urgently needs to move in now. No GE is needed.

-Philippa Jamieson lives in Dunedin, and is the editor of Organic NZ magazine (published by the Soil & Health Association).

Comments

The problem with Jamieson's argument is that it does not take into account that the world population will continue to increase for decades to come and therefore the need for food, continues to grow.
Her position is that we should be a nation of elitist farmers, serving an elitist market of those that can pay, for an elitist product.
Reducing farming output is not a solution to climate change nor is farming that degrades the environment a solution to reducing global poverty.
What really bugs me about CC activists is that they claim our number and consumption is the cause but in turn want to stop what humans have always done since we climbed out of the trees. Technological development, experimentation, reasoning, adoption and adaptation are the very reasons human survived.
Banning that, is what will end the human race faster than CC.

Consider the consumer. No passing off GE food as organic. Big tech and altruistic purpose are adulterated by Profit seeking Big Business.

Ms Jamieson has worked in the field, informed by horticultural experience.

Yes indeed the world human population continues to grow, and the planet cannot sustain the resource use we currently have, let alone in future. However the world still produces more food than is needed for the population - but it's not distributed fairly or evenly. That's a political and economic problem. We also waste a lot of food.
A large majority of the world is fed by local, small-scale subsistence farming, although many struggle to feed themselves because of the pressure to grow commodity crops. Small-scale local farming is mostly organic and far more sustainable than industrial monoculture farming doused with harmful chemicals.
We don't need to reduce farming output. Lincoln Uni dairy farm (and other farmers) have shown you can reduce stock numbers and inputs, yet get the same or even more production: https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/97071476/demonstration-dairy-fa...
I'm not arguing for "a nation of elitist farmers". It's a human right to be able to eat good quality, healthy, nutritious food. Organic and regenerative farming will enhance our health, economy and environment - here and overseas.

 

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