6 Nov 2014

Call for hard line against GE

2:57 pm on 6 November 2014

A petition was presented at Parliament this morning urging the Government to take a harder line against genetic engineering, especially around the labelling of food that may be genetically engineered or modified, including animal feed.

GE Free New Zealand presented the petition at the Primary Production Select Committee this morning. Spokesperson Jon Carapiet said it called for the Government to "wake up" and "get real".

"The evidence is clear: genetic engineering, GE, is actually also a giant experiment. And it's effectively a failing technology that's being propped up by the big companies that have put money into it," she said.

GE Free New Zealand and other groups argued the success of another modern plant breeding technique, known as marker-assisted breeding or marker-selected breeding, was making genetic engineering or genetic modification redundant.

Yet the politically-influential national farmers organisation said the time was right for New Zealand's strict GE rules to be relaxed.

Federated Farmers chief executive Graham Smith said genetically modified plant and pasture varieties and associated gene modifying technologies that were greatly restricted at present could benefit farmers and boost agricultural productivity.

"And so if you take plant breeding for example, there's a whole lot of new technologies particularly around gene splicing that are available and are being used overseas to accelerate the development of new plant varieties," he said.

"But we can't use them, even though they're not introducing foreign DNA material to develop those new plant varieties."

Greenpeace, which is anti-GE, released a new report titled Smart Breeding that detailed the successes of marker-assisted breeding.

Janet Cotter, a senior scientist from Greenpeace's science unit, said marker-assisted selection was conventional breeding.

Dr Cotter said the genetic traits that were being sought after - be it drought tolerance or disease resistance - were marked and traced through the breeding process.

"It's actually what we call smart conventional breeding, and what's smart about it is that it actually uses what we call genetic marker technology.

"So it actually marks genes of interest whether they're drought tolerant genes or disease resistant genes so they can be traced through the breeding process into new crop varieties.

"When you have have your offspring you can simply analyse to see if you've got the markers for those traits, so it's a way of tracing genes associated with the genes you want through the traditional breeding process."

Dr Cotter said as many GE technologies remained focused on herbicide resistance and marker-assisted breeding that offers farmers and agriculture much more.

"I think it's become vitally important when we're talking about adaptation of agriculture to make it more resilient to the impacts of climate change," she said.

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