Synthetic milk could reopen GM crops debate
New Zealand may need to reconsider its approach to genetically modified crops to respond to the economic threat presented by synthetic milk and meat, the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, has suggested.
Gluckman told the NZBio biotechnology conference in Wellington that great strides were being made commercialising artificial milk and meat, which usually rely on genetically modified (GM) ingredients to enhance their taste or texture.
He thought most milk sold worldwide in 20 to 25 years could be synthetic, though it might be ‘‘some time’’ before scientists could create a T-bone steak.
Gluckman said synthetic milk was the biggest threat to New Zealand, because of our reliance on ‘‘liquid gold’’ dairy exports.
‘‘Eight years ago I was laughed at. Now I think the risk is real.’’
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had engaged a consultant to explore the issues ‘‘in some considerable depth’’. All the major food companies were investing in the area.
‘‘They do believe the inevitability of this market is there. It is a not a risk we can any longer ignore. I don’t think I am giving away any secrets to say that companies as large as Fonterra are talking about it – they have to be,’’ Gluckman said.
New Zealand’s challenge was to sustain pastoral agriculture while reducing greenhouse emissions and water use, he said.
‘‘There is no doubt that if we took some our land and changed it to farming the crops that support synthetic foods we could produce high-quality ingredients and probably the high-quality ‘milk’ itself.
‘‘But that would also probably include having to move to those GM ingredients,’’ Gluckman said.
‘‘I think we are in a position where we are now capable of having those conversations without getting immediately drowned in rhetoric as we were 20 years ago.’’
GM was at the heart of lifescience innovation in fields from agriculture to medicine and, if it remained ‘‘completely blocked’’, it would stifle innovation, he added.
Chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman believes most milk sold worldwide could be synthetic within a generation.