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Dr Muriel Newman

Local government the new GM battleground

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17 December 05

Local government the new GM battleground

Having been rejected by central government, GM radicals are now putting pressure on local councils to further their cause.

Their efforts come at a time when the government’s Bioethics Council has recommended that animal to human transplants should recommence. These procedures used to take place in New Zealand , but following concerns raised about the techniques by researchers in Britain in the mid nineties, they were banned.

The Council’s decision now opens the door for New Zealand science and innovation to play its part in developing treatments at the leading edge of transplant technology.

Just as electricity was a key driver of progress in the early part of last century, with information technology taking a lead in the latter part, it will be biotechnology that plays a key role in the future.

According to Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, a body established in 2000 to consider the future of GM in New Zealand : “Technology is integral to the advancement of the world. Fire, the wheel, steam power, electricity, radio transmission, air and space travel, nuclear power, the microchip, DNA: the human race has ever been on the cusp of innovation. Currently biotechnology is the new frontier. Continuation of research is critical to New Zealand ’s future. As in the past we should go forward but with care”.

The Royal Commission which sat for fourteen months, received 10,000 submissions and consulted widely, came to the conclusion that New Zealand should embrace GM technology, but proceed with caution. Click here to view report.

The result was the establishment of the Bioethics Council, and a requirement that all GM applications be carefully examined on a case- by-case basis by the government’s Environmental Risk Management Authority acting under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act. These requirements were in addition to regulations regarding biosecurity, medicines, animal products, agricultural compounds and food labelling.

Not content with the stringent regulatory regime imposed by central government and having lost their battle against science and common sense at a national level radical environmentalists with a GE Free mantra are now attempting to push their agenda through at local body level.

Five councils – Waitakere, Rodney, Kaipara, Whangarei, and Northland with some support from the Northland Regional Council and Local Government NZ – have already spent $75,000 on a report, peer review and legal opinion investigating ways to impose local government regulation on GM applications. The anti GE radicals are putting pressure on local councils to become a regulatory authority, in addition to the regulatory authorities that presently exist.

If they succeed in their orchestrated campaign, then GE consents are likely to be decided on issues of politics and local constituencies rather than science. Just imagine if local councils of the 19th century had required everyone who applied a new science called “electricity” to obtain a resource consent!

Dr William Rolleston, the Chairman of the Life Sciences Network, a group formed to promote a scientific perspective on biotechnology, is the NZCPD guest contributor this week. His response to this anti-GE local body initiative can be found on the website Forum (click here to view his opinion piece).

Genetic modification, a technology which alters the characteristics of living organisms enabling them to perform differently, was introduced into New Zealand thirty years ago, making a total mockery of the claims by green activists that this country could ever become ‘GE Free’.

Major advances in the treatment of diabetes were made in the 1980s through the production by bacteria of genetically engineered human insulin. Sufferers of cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and human dwarfism have all benefited from similar technologies in which human genes are grown in bacteria. Similarly, a copy of the gene for chymosin, a protein enzyme from the stomach of calves, which has been widely used in cheese making since the eighties, is also grown in bacteria.

Potential benefits of GM in the future, include advancements in medicine, the development of disease and pest resistant crops to reduce reliance on agricultural chemicals, foods that contain essential vitamins and minerals and have greater nutritional value, the production of pharmaceuticals from plants, and better methods of controlling pests such as possums (leading to the eventual elimination of the need for 1080 poison).

In researching this article, I came into contact with an Idaho farmer, Duane Grant, who received an Eisenhower Fellowship in 2003 to study the difference in approach to GM between the United States and the European Union.

In his report (click here to view) he noted that: “ US producers have enthusiastically endorsed the biotechnology age. US consumers have given barely more than a polite yawn to claims by opponents of genetic engineering. Today experts estimate that up to 80% of the processed or packaged food in the typical US supermarket contains at least one ingredient that is derived from a genetically engineered source. European society has responded in a diametrically opposite direction – almost no GM crops are produced within the EU”.

I asked him what progress has been made since 2003. He responded: “The EU is moving towards accommodating biotechnology at a somewhat glacial pace, but that movement is indeed occurring. Some polls are indicating a degree of ‘crisis fatigue’ amongst EU consumers, especially in the UK . I am cautiously optimistic that systems will evolve to allow reasonable trade in both conventional and transgenic products between the EU and her trading partners. With China , India and the western hemisphere largely aboard, any country that persists in nonsensical trade barriers is placing their future trade-dependant prosperity at risk. I believe the calmer heads in Europe understand this”.

This weeks poll. This week’s poll asks: Do you believe local authorities should become a regulatory agency for GM applications, in addition to the regulatory controls already imposed by central government? To take part in our online poll

They do not have the technical skill. Look at the debacle with contaminated soils.

Councils are easily captured by zealots and there are no checks and balances as there are at the Parliamentary level – so anything goes.

I have said yes, but I want to say yes and no.The fear of Central Government having total control of something which fiddles with the fragile balance of Nature fills me with dread. The driven need that big companies and individuals have for profit at any cost, regardless of risk must cause caution in the hearts and minds of sane citizens.

Absolutely not. I have a tertiary qualification in botany and zoology, and worked for some time at the (old style) DSIR research station in Lincoln, where a considerable amount of GM research and crop modification was being carried out. I believe that the research staff were and are responsible people, and the results of their work most certainly benefited NZ, New Zealanders, and the world. The Luddite attitudes of the anti-GM lobby should be consigned to the rubbish-bin of history, and promptly.

Definitely not. I am a first term District Councillorand as each day goes by it becomes more and more obvious that the powers that be in Wellington have numerous associated bodies dreaming up ridiculous schemes for Councils that only impact on costing ratepayers excessive rates.

I do not believe Science knows enough about what it is doing to justify placing New Zealand’s unique flora and fauna at risk, by adopting a leading-edge/bleeding edge approach. Leave that for other countries. Once it becomes a stable, credible science, then New Zealand should adopt GE – but even then, very carefully.

Genetic modification began when man first planted crops and raised domestic animals. The best were selected as seed stock. Now the selection is much more scientific and any country that puts it head in the sand will be left behind.

Why add yet another layer to the process, particulalry one which will not be driven by national interest but by a parochial one.

One competent authority is quite enough.

We desperately need more informed information on the GE issue to be released.

GM is a fact of life, like it or not. It has power for good and bad, as do all technologies. Having it regulated all over the place, often by people who do not understand it, is counterproductive. We are busy destroying our environment as fast as we can already – GM may be the only way we can save ourselves and our fellow living organisms from the havoc we are wreaking.We should be working with it and not against it.

Another downside of granting general competence to Councils – another area of interference while the pot holes grow.

Local Bodies are there to serve the ratepayers who fund them. I am sure that I echo the large majority that they have too much power and have entered arenas they have no place in. We have one body for ruling our collective lives, (one too many), and that is our parliament. Local Authorities should do what they are paid to do and not try to influence the ratepayers.

I find it incredibly selfish that a small group of people are trying to prevent the development of techniologies that could possibly save thousands if not millions of lives world wide, simply because they are scared of embracing new technologies.

Ignorance generates fear and fear generates anarchy.

If central Government has approved GM, that decision should be universal throughout New Zealand. Otherwise, people will move away from places where their rights are restricted.

GM is unproven as to safety and efficacy. Local bodies know what’s best for their areas.

If the Wheel was invented today, the Greens and others would have it banned.

GM regulation is a matter for central government. It is important that any control be applied in the interest of the overall public and that it be handled by a competent authority acting on an informed and consistent basis. The mechanism of local government is incapable undertaking such a task as it would inevitably result in ad hoc and inconsistent regulation.

Councils become captured by people with agendas. As a result, North Shore for example, won’t let you touch a tree you planted without permissionfrom a qualified arborist – at a price! As if youreally need a qualified opinionto cut down a tree youplanted yourself!

I wouldn’t trust a local authority with my pocket money, let alone something as important as GM applications.

I am cautious about the advancement of GE believe the advocacy of GE enthusiasts should be received sceptically as much as one must be sceptical about the anti-GM ‘doomsayers’. However, there is absolutely no doubt local government is NOT the agency to regulate or pontificate on these issues. They have neither the competence, money or structure to involve themselves and the Labour Government was extremely silly to have given them general powers of competence to tempt them into thinking they might get involved in such debatesLocal authorities usually will not have the scientific knowledge required. Emotion will rule the day.

Local authorities are involving themselves in too many issues at significant cost to ratepayers, outside their mandate and which are adequately and properly covered by Central Government.

It is hard to think of a better way to ensure that uninformed individuals can influence this debate. Antagonism is fuelled by the green lobby which persists in half-truths, innuendo, gross extrapolation beyond the facts, and downright lies.

We are grossly over regulated already. It is virtually impossible to go through say a six month period without UNKNOWINGLY OR UNWITTINGLY infringing a law or by-law. Keep Councils out, Parliament makes enough screw ups on their own, we don’t need to compound the situation.

Increasing regulation is stifling this country and in some instances driving away innovation and potentially beneficial technology in so many areas of human need.

Scientific argument is way beyond the capability understanding of Local Government, perhaps even central government.

GM free status’ main benefit would be as an international marketing plus so to legislate on a region by region basis in a country the size of NZ borders on farcical.

No harm in 2 checks. However I doubt if either can be trusted when palms are greased by Multi Nationals as has happened in the past.

ACapital… NO. Goodness me we must be the most ‘regulated society’ in the Western world. PC thinking and PC acting. Next I’ll have to go through a censor to write to you!!!!!

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