Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Here’s to policies that spark prosperity

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Alan Emerson applauds Feds and National biotech policies.
Malcolm White weighs in on genetic modification in agriculture, saying things are not as simple as they seem.
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The past week has been interesting politically, with Federated Farmers releasing its 12-point “election platform” and National releasing its biotech policy.

Both will resonate with farmers.

The Feds message to politicians was to stop tying up farms in red tape and impractical regulations. Its Election Platform is well thought out and practical.

Acting president Wayne Langford was specific about what the organisation wanted, saying it was “being very clear about what we believe needs to be done to restore farmer confidence, support thriving rural communities, improve environmental outcomes and unlock the potential of our primary sector for the benefits of all New Zealanders”.

There isn’t anything in the 12 points I would argue with. They want to support the better use of technologies, which the National Party has backed with its biotech policy.

They also want to unlock potential through water storage. As I’ve previously written, our current rules in this area are bizarre. We happily let over 90% of our water run out to sea rather than allow storage with the subsequent increase in production. Farmers I know who have navigated the central/local government minefield have been subject to considerable cost, unnecessary harassment from ignorant local government officials and massive time wastage. 

Feds also wants an urgent review of methane targets, rethinking of the Emissions Trading Scheme, scrapping the punitive ute tax, fixing our infrastructure and the fixing of our unworkable freshwater rules. Those rules are to me a prime example of a Wellington-centric bureaucracy enthusiastically adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. 

It will never work.

In addition it wants to get the Resource Management Act reform right, which will be a mammoth task hampered by intransigent officials, and to simplify Significant Natural Areas. I believe the entire SNA saga has been poorly handled and has created unnecessary stress.

We need to bring science rather than folklore into the SNA discussion.

So well done Feds. The Election Platform is a well thought out, non-political statement that accurately reflects the concerns of the rural sector.

The second political event of the week was the release of the National Party’s biotech policy by its science, innovation and technology spokesperson, Judith Collins.

I must confess I was less than impressed by its agricultural policy as it missed the mark in my view and was somewhat underwhelming, as have been its various agricultural spokespeople.

The biotech policy correspondingly is well researched, well written and exactly what New Zealand needs.

It is difficult to argue with the “Harnessing Biotech” policy.

It quotes Professor Dame Juliet Gerrard, who is the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser. She tells us that “our current legal and regulatory frameworks are not fit for purpose”. I agree.

National then quotes Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the former Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser. Gluckman said that “the science is as settled as it will be. It is safe, there are no significant ecological or health concerns associated with the use of advanced genetic technologies. If we are to remain a biological economy we will have to have another (national) conversation about it.”

Gluckman has previously encouraged a debate on GM, but few seem to have listened.

National’s “Harnessing Biotech” plan has three key planks starting with ending the effective ban on GE and GM in NZ. The technology has been around for decades and, as Gluckman has pointed out, “it is safe and there are no significant ecological or health concerns associated with it”.

Why then have significant governments ignored the benefits of GE? It is beyond me.

The other two features of National’s biotech policy are to create a dedicated regulator to ensure the safe and ethical use of biotechnology and to streamline approval for trials and use on non-GE/GM biotech.

The opposition to National’s policy announcement was predictable.

GE Free NZ was apoplectic, claiming the policy was “throwing both the public and protection of nature under a bus”. How, it didn’t say.

Greenpeace claimed instead of GE we should be reducing cows and fertiliser use. So instead of an ethical increase in production, Greenpeace would prefer an unscientific lurch into poverty.

Environment Minister David Parker told me that it was troubling National hadn’t mentioned the risks that changing our GE-free brand posed to our primary exports.

The answer to that is there isn’t a risk and I’d remind Minister Parker that the Productivity Commission has called for renewed conversation around GE. 

ACT has always had an enlightened GE policy and the Green Party was comfortable with reviewing our GM laws, which was reassuring.

The issue is that I can find absolutely no scientific justification for our current GE/GM policy – but plenty of unfounded emotion.

I’d describe the opponents of GE in just one word – Luddites.

So, thanks to both Feds and National for encouraging policies that will increase our prosperity. 

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