Monday, February 26, 2024

Broken logic at the heart of GE plans 

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Why would we want to increase production of food that consumers will resist buying, asks an Auckland sheep and cattle farmer.
Malcolm White weighs in on genetic modification in agriculture, saying things are not as simple as they seem.
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By Rod Clarke, Auckland sheep and cattle farmer

As a part-time, average farmer, I marvel at the real skills and abilities of New Zealand farmers in general and under increasingly trying conditions these days. 

However, I am also amazed at how little farmers know about the implications of modifying genes in the food they produce and the plants and animals they farm.

I am starting to wonder if, for a majority, the overriding farming psyche is not centred on three things: production, field days and the latest farm equipment. 

Are farmers really paying attention, concerning themselves with very key scientific issues that, if enabled, would result in complete import bans by many majorly important trading partner countries of the goods NZ produces? 

Have farmers taken a look at key trading partner countries’ regulatory stance on genetically altered foods or checked out the perception and attitudes of customers in those countries to buying gene-altered food? 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that if countries start banning and not wanting our produce and mums decide “No, I’m not buying that”, we are in serious trouble! 

What has prompted me to reach this point? During the election campaign I saw Christopher Luxon and the National Party announcing that if they were to be the next government, they would introduce genetic engineering technology into our food production and into our landscape. 

Do they not remember “Corngate” in 2001? Do they not know New Zealand’s history? That, 20 years ago, 15,000 to 30,000 genetically engineered corn plants were accidentally released into the NZ environment and countries such as Japan closed their markets immediately? 

And what would we be allowing GE into NZ for? We are missing out on production benefits, they say. Well, what’s the point of increasing production of something that customers are averse to, don’t really want and certainly won’t pay a premium for? They don’t want it. 

Where does it make sense to farm produce that customers won’t pay a premium for or even buy at all because of concerns about adverse health effects? It’s all about market perception. That’s all that matters.

Do you realise the huge implications that GE could and is having on human and animal health?

And don’t relax and think scientists will have it all under control. Combine that with corporate interests, rubbing their hands with delight, rushing to get their GE products into new markets with, let’s say, “manipulated scientific interpretation as to safety” . 

We would be allowing the release of organisms that the scientists admit they do not fully understand. 

Twenty years ago, I personally paid for full pages in newspapers to explain why this would be disastrous for NZ. In my writings I specifically mentioned Horizontal Gene Transfer, where microbes in the soil can transfer genetic material from one plant or animal species to another. 

Back then, virtually nobody was paying attention or understood what this was about and the huge implications. 

I noted then and I note again now the unbridled enthusiasm by Federated Farmers to have this technology allowed into NZ. But I think everybody needs to stop, take a real deep dive into why this could be the biggest mistake NZ agriculture has ever made. 

It might be a strange phenomena but methinks the politicians don’t really know what they’re talking about. 

And they won’t be the ones bearing the consequences in the future.

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