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ODT Sponsored Debate on GM - Pete Hodgson Speech

27 June 2002
Hon Pete Hodgson

Speech Notes
Introductory Comments – ODT Sponsored Debate on Genetic Modification
Dunedin: 7.30pm

27 June 2002

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming along and congratulations to the Otago Daily Times for its initiative.

For the record, you should know that over the last term the Greens and Labour have worked together on many issues. In particular Jeanette and I have. I have enjoyed her support and advice on the West Coast logging issue, the Kyoto Protocol, as Minister of Fisheries on dolphins, sealions and the like, and particularly on the issue of energy efficiency.

In this area, genetic engineering, we think the Greens have made a serious error. In short they have said that when the current moratorium expires in 16 months they will bring the Government down, if they can.

New Zealanders did not vote for MMP so that the 8 or 10% of voters might force the other 90% back to the ballot box because one Party adopted the tactic of single issue politics.

I was a member of the Electoral Reform Coalition even before I entered Parliament. Back then the Greens spearheaded the campaign for MMP. Throughout those times, those of us who promoted electoral reform had to repeatedly rebut the argument that single issue tactics would dominate parliament. We said that would not happen. Instead, we said, politics would become more mature, more negotiated, more representative. Now, those who led the charge have adopted “tail wagging the dog” tactics, just as they said they wouldn’t.

We have had genetic engineering (GE) or genetic modification (GM) in New Zealand for about 25 years. During that time we have not ourselves released a genetically modified organism into the environment. Live GM vaccines are of course here, if only by courtesy of air travel.

We have probably had GE or GM food in New Zealand for about 10 years. We don’t know because there has been no labelling requirement until now. It will be in place by December and consumers can choose accordingly.

In 1996 New Zealand passed law that gave us the most precautionary, transparent and participatory regulatory system for genetically modified organisms in the world. Bar none.

After three years of experience with it our Government set up a Royal Commission to look at GM, and gave the Commission wide terms of reference. We closely involved the Greens; they got what they wanted.

The Royal Commission report is a clear, erudite, and elegant document. It bears reading. It reports on spiritual matters, cultural, environmental, economic, health, international and strategic matters. It identifies a number of myths and tells the truth about them.

It specifically rejected the two extremes of deregulation on the one hand and a New Zealand free of all genetic modification on the other. The Commission said “use the technology selectively”, “proceed with caution”, and it offered 40 or so recommendations.

The Government accepted nearly all the Commissions recommendations and put a moratorium on applications for release until the recommendations could be put in place. That is where the moratorium came from.

By contrast the Greens, having got what they wanted when the Royal Commission was set up, and having actually involved themselves in the Commissions hearings as a political party, then set about to pull the Commissions findings to bits. The Royal Commission had examined the Green position and found it faulty, but the Greens decided to stick with it anyway, come what may.

For a Party so strongly wedded to good process, that has been a spectacle indeed.

Here is Labour’s position.

GM has a place in New Zealand. We should proceed with caution. Our system must be precautionary, transparent and participatory. We should examine the present and future opportunities of this technology on a case by case basis. This idea of a case by case basis is hugely important.

The technology is changing very quickly. There is no straight line in nature and attempting to identify one is facile. No one has the franchise on wisdom in this debate and for the Greens to claim that franchise gives us the first glimpse at their ideology.

We have the best regulatory system in the world, and one of the first, and the Royal Commission just made it better.

The choice is therefore between precautionary and prejudicial; between a case by case approach, or an absolutist approach; an approach based on evidence at the time or one based on beliefs formed back in 2002.

The Greens position cannot stand scrutiny. It is too fragile. For each of their anecdotes about dodgy U.S. corporate behaviour, there is another about a health gain, an economic gain, an environmental gain. And the problem with their position is that as soon as they are wrong, just once, then they must cross their line and adopt the case by case approach after all.


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