Biotechnology : creating innovative solutions - will we have the courage to embrace it?
Biotechnology and, increasingly, genetic modification (GM) are some of the most powerful tools we have to keep ahead of the demands of an ever growing and increasingly health conscious population, while maintaining our global competitiveness. Technologies already exist that can, not only substantially increase crop and animal yields, but also produce foods with specifically enhanced nutritional and health benefits. The challenge lies not only in continuing these developments through well funded scientific research but also in changing perceptions, often grounded in ignorance, fear, prejudice and intolerance, which threaten to block or slow ground breaking scientific discoveries such as GM. My concern is that New Zealand will lag behind our competitors in allowing the uptake of such technologies, and in total spend on R&D, and in the process lose our competitive advantage as a low cost exporter of quality food. The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) strictly controls GM in New Zealand and while I concede that such an authority is essential I believe that, due to changing world attitudes and large-scale global uptake of GM, we need to revisit our current regulations and restrictions. There are many historical examples of various groups with different agendas that have used fear, emotion and false science to alienate the public towards products and methods which actually stand-up very well to critical scientific analysis. Conversely there are examples where science and scientists have created a deepseated mistrust amongst the public through misrepresenting actual findings to support their own hypothesis. This report has a dual purpose - to enlighten the general public but more specifically the farming community and its future leaders of the incredibly powerful tools that currently exist for us to greatly improve our on-farm productivity and profitability and subsequently our competitiveness in the world agricultural marketplace. The stunning thing is that many of these groundbreaking developments, although discovered and developed by scientists within New Zealand in contained facilities, will not receive permission for field trials in our country. It is critical that the agricultural and science communities work to establish a new sense of trust in science and the solutions and potential benefits which ensue from research, and look at funding of research, science and technology as an essential investment in our future rather than a cost to be minimised. At the very least we need to thoroughly debate the immediate and future consequence of the path we take as a country on the uptake of GM. This debate needs to be based on scientific facts not emotion and hysteria and should look at social, economic and environmental impacts in a balanced way.... [Show full abstract]