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GM Inquiry: Two Steps Forwards, Two Steps Back

The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification has released its findings, and Libertarianz Leader and environment deregulation spokesman Peter Cresswell is nonplussed.

After $6.2 million and one year, we find recommendations that we be allowed to make applications to genetically modify organisms and sell the produce therefrom - though this reports suggests measures making it ever more costly to do so - and that the already top-heavy ERMA and ISBCs be supplemented with even more alphabet agencies. Further, we find proposals for more state-sponsored apartheid: that (somehow) GM producers should recognise "the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi" and other "cultural, ethical and spiritual issues" when they apply gene technology; that ISBCs should be racially based; and that a Maori Consultative Committee, and a race-based Bioethics Council be established to "facilitate consultation with the Maori community."

"So it's not all good news," says Cresswell.

"There is however a healthy 'presumption to technology' in this report which is as unexpected as it is welcome," he says, noting that the Commission has "quite reasonably thrown out many of the wild claims put forward by the Luddites - claims that in themselves could only be proved following research that the Luddites wish to ban." He is particularly moved by this heroic paragraph from the executive summary:

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.

"Amongst the many mixed blessings for me," says Cresswell, "is the discussion on liability issues. It is most welcoming to see the common law actions of nuisance restated, particularly the 'rule in Rylands v Fletcher' - which applies to the 'escape' from the defendant’s land of something likely to cause damage. If unencumbered by statute," he says, "this under-used action can successfully protect property owners from unwanted spray, seed or pollen drift."

"It was even more welcoming to note the dismissal of many of the flawed overseas liability models, including the struggling US Superfund scheme," he says. "But I remain disappointed at the continuation of the flawed HSNO and ERMA regime, since it seems clear that New Zealand producers will continue to be encumbered by it; while property owners will enjoy only the same inadequate bureaucratic protection that the RMA provides - offering producers the right to pollute if certain hurdles are jumped through, and leaving neighbours potentially unprotected."

"My chief worry is that property rights-based protection, as enjoyed under common law, will continue to be buried under this regime," says Cresswell. As the Commission notes: " As technology advanced with ever-increasing pace throughout the 20th century, the common law (that is, law based on court decisions, as distinct from statute law) showed it was well able to mould new remedies for novel situations." Says Cresswell: "It is a pity the Commissioners did not have sufficient confidence to allow these remedies to 'breathe' by throwing out the HSNO/ERMA regime."

"As for the Greens, one can only sympathise," says Cresswell. "They agitated at length (and occasionally with violence) for this Inquiry; they obtained special "interested person" status at the Inquiry; they sponsored flawed evidence at the Inquiry (remember Elaine Ingham and Percy Schmeiser?) - they did everything they could at this Inquiry to get he result they wanted, and now they have been convincingly rebuffed. And they are annoyed. What more do they have to do, one wonders? Perhaps embrace the pursuit of reason, science and technology, one might answer, and advocate for strong property rights, as libertarians do."

It's enough to make you vote Libertarianz!


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