Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Warm welcome for National GE, ag policies

Neal Wallace
Scientists and ag leaders hail ‘step in the right direction’
Sir Peter Gluckman believes NZ has lost the capacity to stay at the leading edge of agriculture and environmental protection.. File photo
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Primary industry leaders and scientists have welcomed the policies the National Party is taking to this year’s election: to allow the use of genetic technology and delay the pricing of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Citing shortcomings in the current emission’s pricing proposal, farming leaders welcomed the party’s proposal linking it to the availability of technology.

DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel said delaying agriculture emissions pricing would be a step in the right direction.

“If a NZ Government is going to price agricultural emissions, then the pricing system must be fair and practical for dairy farmers,” he said.

Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva “cautiously welcomed” a proposed review of the ban on genetic modification (GM) and gene editing (GE) and encouraged all political parties to support a science-led approach.

“The ban in 2003 was a reasonable response at the time, but the science and regulatory landscape has advanced significantly since then,” she said.

Its use needs to be carefully assessed against risks to market access.

“We need to ensure that we take global consumers on the journey with us. We are confident that this can be done with the right regulatory control and oversight framework in place.”

A study published last year in the NZ Journal of Agricultural Research by John Caradus, the chief executive of AgResearch subsidiary Grasslanz Technology, found markets generally accepting of GM in food production without long-term deleterious effects in overseas markets.

Scientists, including former Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister Sir Peter Gluckman, have welcomed the permissive use of GM.

Sir Peter told Newshub NZ has lost the capacity to stay at the leading edge of agriculture and environmental protection.

Scientists say current rules are not fit for purpose but they want applications considered case by case.

“By restricting the use of genetically modified organisms, NZ is missing out on new tools to fight the climate crisis,” said Professor Andrew Allan, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland.

“Our existing crops are under threat and traditional breeding methods can’t keep up with warming temperatures.” 

But Jack Heinemann, a professor of Genetics at the University of Canterbury, said NZ is not lagging, adding that after more than a decade of CRISPR technology, just three gene edited organisms are on the global market.

There is much to learn, he said. “Pushing it too fast is the risk, not an economic or climate salvation.”

Producer groups have welcomed policies delaying a charge on greenhouse gas emissions until they have mitigating technology. 

Beef + Lamb NZ chair Kate Acland said this aligns with its position and reflects farmer anger with the He Waka Eke Noa pricing proposal.

“For the last few months, we have been advocating for the focus to be on establishing a robust and credible measurement and reporting system for agricultural emissions that works for farmers, with a price introduced only if justified once sequestration has been sorted and there are viable mitigations that are widely available for use,” she said.

Acland was also encouraged by the policy to restrict the rate of wholesale conversion of farms into forestry due to the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Van der Poel said pricing is a tool to facilitate behavioural change but will only achieve that outcome if cost-effective tools and technology are available.

“Before any emissions pricing system is introduced, there must be clarity about emissions targets and how any pricing mechanism will work, along with how all these factors work together. We must get the details right.”

Federated Farmers president Wayne Langford said the policies were consistent with what the organisation sought in its 12-point road map.

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