Sun, 24 Jul 2016

Should NZ say yes or no to GMO?

A whole bunch of Nobel Laureates have written an open letter to Greenpeace to tell them to stop being so silly and hysterical about genetic modification. Genetics Otago Professor Peter Dearden says there may be great benefits for NZ adopting GMO for things like pest control. GE Free NZ campaigner Claire Bleakley says there's not enough proof of the safety of GMOs. Below is a truncated transcript of their discussion.

Prof Peter Dearden

"I think the issue is that there has been a lot of scepticism about genetically modified organisms, and I think the scepticism has been right. But I think the problem is we haven't moved on from 'this is a technology we need to worry about' to 'actually, there's good evidence that in many cases, this technology is perfectly safe.'

There is a lot of talk about genetically modified food and the benefits of that, but I actually see most of the benefits of genetically modified technology outside the food area.

I'm wearing a cotton t-shirt this morning… and that cotton t-shirt has probably come from genetically modified plants grown in parts of the world where the evidence now suggests that those plants provide a better environment for lots of different insects. They reduce the amount of insecticides.

I'm not saying that we need to have a blanket 'yes, everything is fine', but we shouldn't have a blanket 'no.'"

GE Free NZ Claire Bleakley

"We don't believe that the science has actually shown they are safe to eat.

As Professor Dearden has just said, he is wearing a cotton t-shirt. We don’t eat cotton, but we do eat other foods that are genetically modified.

In respect to this, we need to be wary when we have no science to show the safety.

We cannot use the authority and the power of people like the Nobel laureates to replace the lack of safety studies.

Are we yet again going to have to suffer millions of deaths like we did with thalidomide? [And] CFCs - or chlorofluorocarbons - with the loss of the ozone layer? 

The vital science relating to human and the environment safety shows that long-term effects of GE pose many dangers, and until the long-term safety to both the environment and health are shown, NZ should not get caught up in the floundering rhetoric of the GE protagonists."

Prof Peter Dearden

"To say that there is no science is not the case.

The Nobel prize winners' letter comes on the back of a very long and complex and involved review by the National Academy of Sciences in the US, which has gone through all the evidence they can find and spoken to vast numbers of people, and their conclusions are that there's no sign that these plants for food or any other purpose that are genetically modified are any more dangerous than those that are produced in non-genetically modified ways.

What this paper doesn't say is that this is the panacea that is going to solve the world's food problems.

What it says is that in many circumstances there are benefits to using the technology.

I think it's time to stop saying 'the science doesn't say that this is fine.' The science is there. The science says there is very little evidence of danger whatsoever and actually, genetically modified crops are no more dangerous than those that are produced by normal methods."

GE Free NZ Claire Bleakley

"We have got no control over when a crop is presented to a regulator. We only have the right to make a comment, and not one of our comments has ever let a regulator turn down the approval of a food into the human food chain in Australia or New Zealand."

Prof Peter Dearden

"I'm not particularly concerned about genetically modified food in NZ. I think NZ is growing food for the rest of the world, and it's doing it in a high-quality way, and we don't necessarily fall here. However, I do think that NZ could invest in genetically modified techniques for things like pest control, which would be enormously beneficial to the environment, to the society and reduce the cost of looking after our conservation estate and reduce the cost of producing the food that we do so well.

We need to open up that discussion to the general public and say 'under which circumstances would this be acceptable?' Food might not be acceptable, and that's fine, but actually, does it matter if we've developed a genetically modified way of stopping pine trees wilding? Or a way to control the common wasp, which would be enormously beneficial?"

GE Free NZ Claire Bleakley

"I think there are definitely other methods for NZ to go down.

No genetic modification [should] be released into the open environment in NZ, however, we do approve insulin where it has been clinically studied and where the patient has been given total choice whether to carry on using genetically modified insulin or another source."

What do you think? Comment below.

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