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Royal Commission Report Not Pro-GM But Pro-Caution

16 September, 2001

Royal Commission Report Not Pro-GM But Pro-Caution

CRIs Critical Of Public Manipulation

The report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification is not PRO-GM but supportive of a cautionary approach to these technologies, the Chairman of the Biotechnology Sub-Group of the Association of Crown Research Institutes, Dr Ian Warrington, said today.

“The report allows for case by case assessment of benefits and risks, with opportunities for argument both for and against as applications to carry out GM work are lodged in the future,” he said.

“Its significance lies in the fact that it does not does not rule out New Zealand’s considerable opportunities to take up world leadership in areas where we have considerable scientific expertise to use the technology to environmental, health and economic advantage.

“Implementation of the commission’s report is not a Pro-GM versus Anti-GM issue. It is about preserving our options; proceeding cautiously; maximising benefits and minimising risks. New Zealand science as a whole supports such a prudent approach and is supportive of the cautionary approach the report recommends.

“We must recognise that the Royal Commission, after hearing and analysing the evidence concluded that most of the fears about GM were unfounded, and that, in a properly structured regulatory environment:

- Organics and GM technologies can coexist- as they do in other countries;

- The environment need not be under any threat;

- That a Bioethics Committee will ensure New Zealanders are comfortable with any proposed use of the new technology.”

Dr Warrington said: “The Crown Research Institutes must speak up because New Zealand’s future as a knowledge economy is at risk if, for ideological reasons, researchers are stopped from pursuing the GM option.

“Much CRI research is into niche GM technologies, able to generate high value proteins, pharmaceuticals and other products which are no threat to the organics industry.

“Indeed, Crown Research Institutes support an organic future for New Zealand but caution New Zealanders that organics are just another commodity and even on the most optimistic estimates the likely returns over the next five years although valuable are very small by comparison with those from conventional or GM improved agriculture. In addition, as the returns depend on prices set by others, it would not be prudent to place all our eggs in the organics basket” said Dr Warrington

“GM technologies, being developed by the Crown Research Institute have the potential to enhance our clean green image by solving environmental problems caused by possums, wasps and other pests. In the future, it is also possible, that with the help of GM technologies we will use land more efficiently and sustainably to generate our wealth and, therefore ease the pressure on our natural environment.

“Because the Crown Research Institutes recognised that there are certain GM technologies that would be unacceptable to New Zealand, we recommended to the Commission the establishment of an Ethics Council to balance cultural and spiritual concerns of New Zealanders. The Commission agreed and the recommended Bioethics Council, not the scientists, will consider where the acceptability boundaries lie.

“World-wide the report is considered a first class moderate assessment that sets a reasonable and prudent path forward. Crown Research Institutes had believed that the report would be accepted because the commission based its conclusions on sound evidence after a thorough analysis.

“We were mistaken. Discussion of the issues is often obscured by misrepresentations aimed at manipulating public opinion. Such ideological manipulation, brings disappointment and frustration to the science community” said Dr Warrington. “New Zealanders must realise, that, if we miss this opportunity to be in the forefront of a technology by developing our own capability and highly valued products, our economy will languish.

“In terms of benefits to humankind, the new GM technologies will be as revolutionary as the transistor, which, we all know, lead to the silicon chip and to the computer age. We would never have argued then that, because the transistor is a new technology, we should avoid it. How can we possibly argue against a cautious use of the new opportunities now before us, when our future as an agricultural nation is at stake?”

“We cannot afford to let the opportunities of GM technologies pass us by. By going with the cautious approach outlined by the Commission we can gain most of the benefits and avoid the risks” said Dr Warrington.

- ends

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