Is it re­ally time for de­bate on GE crops?

South Waikato News - - RURAL DELIVERY -

Timid po­lit­i­cal will is stop­ping New Zealand be­com­ing a global leader in biotech­nol­ogy, says farm­ing leader and sci­en­tist Wil­liam Rolle­ston.

As sci­en­tists worked to feed bil­lions more peo­ple, op­por­tu­ni­ties ex­isted for the coun­try to show lead­er­ship in biotech­nol­ogy with­out caus­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion.

‘‘By any mea­sure New Zealand ought to be a leader. No, it should be the leader. The fact we are not comes back to a timid po­lit­i­cal will,’’ Dr Rolle­ston told an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on agri­cul­tural biotech­nol­ogy in Ro­torua.

‘‘It is time for ra­tio­nal and in­formed de­bate about all tools and op­tions, in­clud­ing ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion, which is now be­com­ing the fastes­ta­dopted agri­cul­tural tech­nol­ogy in his­tory.’’

There could be an ex­tra three bil­lion peo­ple to feed by 2050.

‘‘This need to feed the planet could best be de­scribed as the ‘food race’. It is as im­por­tant as any­thing we have done in our his­tory as a species but hinges on a sec­ond green rev­o­lu­tion.’’

That meant max­imis­ing the full po­ten­tial of the bi­o­log­i­cal sciences, the South Can­ter­bury farmer and sci­en­tist said.

Biotech­nol­o­gists were striv­ing to dis­cover ways to max­imise the pro­duc­tive po­ten­tial of livestock, plants and crops to feed ex­tra peo­ple but con­sume the same, if not fewer, re­sources than used to­day.

‘‘Sci­ence, in­clud­ing biotech­nol­ogy, can pro­vide us with the tools to achieve these seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble and con­tra­dic­tory goals,’’ Dr Rolle­ston said.

Clive James, founder of the In­ter­na­tional Ser­vice for the Ac­qui­si­tion of Agribiotech Ap­pli­ca­tions, told the con­fer­ence there were ma­jor chal­lenges in feed­ing the world of to­mor­row, and con­ven­tional tech­nol­ogy alone would not al­low food pro­duc­tion to be dou­bled.

Tech­nolo­gies such as ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion and biotech­nol­ogy pro­vided op­por­tu­ni­ties to feed the pop­u­la­tion.

There had been a very rapid up­take of ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied crops around the world, in­creas­ing from 1.7 mil­lion hectares in 1996 to 160 mil­lion hectares in 2011.

‘‘That’s six times the to­tal land mass of New Zealand,’’ Dr James said.

US State Depart­ment se­nior ad­viser for biotech­nol­ogy Jack Bobo said about 70 per cent more food was needed to meet pop­u­la­tion pro­jec­tions by 2050.

This had to be done us­ing less land, wa­ter, fer­tiliser and pes­ti­cides,’’ he said.

‘‘We have to do ev­ery­thing bet­ter than what we do to­day and we have to do twice as much of it.’’

The wide­spread adaptation of biotech­nol­ogy and ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied tech­nol­ogy in agri­cul­ture was a clear in­di­ca­tion that farm­ers were get­ting ben­e­fits from biotech­nol­ogy.

There was also ev­i­dence con­sumers were pre­pared to buy food pro­duced from biotech­nol­ogy be­cause it was cheaper.

Poli­cies should be re­lated to what peo­ple do rather than what peo­ple say they do, he said.

‘‘Sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy are not the en­emy.’’

But these ar­gu­ments were re­jected by GE Free New Zealand spokesman Jon Cara­piet. He con­tested del­e­gates’ claims that ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered crops had im­proved the lives of farm­ers in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

A United Nations re­port had sug­gested that smallscale, di­verse farm­ing prac­tices and free ac­cess to seeds was the way to help im­prove the lives of farm­ers in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, he said.

Al­low­ing GE prod­ucts into New Zealand was a race to the bot­tom glob­ally in the pro­duc­tion of the most con­tam­i­nated prod­ucts, Mr Cara­piet said, and New Zealand’s prod­ucts were in di­rect con­trast.

‘‘What we are talk­ing about is pro­tect­ing New Zealand’s brand iden­tity and pro­tect­ing New Zealand’s ex­ports to the world. Peo­ple want clean, green GE-free prod­ucts.’’

Fair­fax NZ

WIL­LIAM ROLLE­STON

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