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GE debate must be based on rational arguments

Genetics debate must be based on rational scientific argument

National is encouraging the Government to resist extreme views in the GMO debate and take a rational approach to advancing biotech opportunities in New Zealand, National's Crown Research Institutes spokesman Dr Paul Hutchison said today.

"It is fundamental that New Zealand does not take risks in the field of genetic engineering, or stop genetic field trials that have already passed the rigorous requirements that New Zealand insists on.

"Prime Minister Helen Clark must be careful not to deny scientists, and therefore New Zealanders, the opportunity to help cure diseases or advance agriculture and horticulture.

"The Prime Minister must not give in to the extreme view of the Greens and stop all field trials. The Greens' views could pose more danger than they purport to prevent. They will undermine the scientific community and potentially put New Zealand in a position where we have no scientists experienced to control problems with our biodiversity that will inevitably arise from overseas," says Dr Hutchison.

While National does not think a Royal Commission into GMOs is necessary, if it leads to more informed and rational debate to establish public confidence, we believe it may be of some benefit, he says.

"The terms of reference and composition of the Royal Commission must be carefully considered. But we warn the Government that because biotechnology is moving so rapidly, by the time the Commission has reported many of its findings may be irrelevant."

Dr Hutchison along with Opposition Leader Jenny Shipley, Gavan Herlihy (Agriculture), David Carter (Biosecurity) and Dr Nick Smith (ERMA) visited Lincoln Crop & Food today. They met scientists and researchers to view their work first hand, and discuss what challenges they face in the biotechnology and genetics fields. The visit is part of ongoing consultation with the science, medical and agricultural communities by National MPs. "New Zealand is a biotechnology leader and it is vital that we continue to be involved. Our agriculture, horticulture, medical and scientific communities, biosustainability and economy all depend on it.

"We have the best knowledge of sheep genetics in the world. It is important that we honour our scientists' commitment and ensure that if their field trials pass the rigorous scrutiny required, they are given strong support.

"New Zealand uses more 1080 poison than any other country in the world. If land care trials using biotech techniques to curb our possum problem are successful, it will be a huge step forward for our biodiversity," he says.

ERMA (Environment and Risk Management Authority) and HaSNO (Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act) give New Zealanders very strong safeguards against risky trials.

"We believe that the Independent Biotechnology Advisory Committee (IBAC) provides an excellent forum to debate genetic issues. This committee can provide ongoing advice and is far more responsive to fast-moving changes in the field at any point in time than a Royal Commission could ever be.

"It is extremely important for our economy, our health system and the protection of our biodiversity that the Government shows a lead in the field of biotechnology. The potential gains are immense while being scrupulous about risk management.

"We must honour and support our scientific community whose efforts we depend on to remain competitive in the knowledge economy, but where is the support from this Government?" Dr Hutchison asks.


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