Friday, 16 October 2015

GM Scientists need Adult Supervision

As you probably don't know, there is a softly softly top-down campaign underway to radically weaken New Zealand's system for regulating GMOs. Feds boss William Rolleston pushes it in almost every speech, Treasury boss Gabriel Maklouf is clearly on board and it seems that the new head of the EPA Allan Freeth is sympathetic.

Presumably these folk and their backers are seriously annoyed at local government moves to regulate GMOs under the Resource Management Act (RMA). Hastings District which includes the massively productive Heretaunga Plains has recently declared itself GMO free, agreeing with evidence presented by food producer group Pure Hawkes Bay. Now the Auckland Council is considering similar provisions(pdf) as the first of a group of councils from Auckland northwards.

I gave economic evidence at hearings in Hastings and Auckland (my three statements for Auckland are here, here and here). A few days after the Auckland hearing RadioNZ called asking for comment on a proposal for change from NZBio, the industry association for biotech investors.

Three things need noting about the NZBio plan.

  1. It is entirely verbal. There seems to be no written argument or proposal. The only thing clear from NZBio's website is that they're after "eased restrictions on GMOs". That is at least much more direct and honest than the coded whisperings of Treasury and the Feds, but where is the policy analysis?
  2. It really is radical. The international consensus on GMO regulation is contained in the Cartegena Protocol and it is process-based, meaning that GMOs are regulated because of the process (GM) that created them. NZBio propose shifting instead to trait-based regulation. For example, herbicide tolerant (HT) swedes are already approved in NZ and that is a trait, so herbicide tolerance engineered into GMOs will also be approved under NZBio's plan.
  3. It ignores the views of food exporters. Fonterra and Horticulture New Zealand are both on record as opposing field trials and outdoor release of GMOs in New Zealand. They do this because they are customer-facing and our customers don't like GMOs.
That last bit is fascinating isn't it? I can't figure out whether the local GM developers are not talking to the people who sell our primary produce internationally or they know their views but don't care.

Either way, my conclusion is that GM scientists/investors need adult supervision.

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