Time to move on
From Francis Wevers, Executive Director, Life Sciences Network (Inc)
Four and a half years ago the Labour Party, then in opposition, decided it was going to crystallize the debate about GM in New Zealand. Rather than support a misguided attempt to freeze all research and development of gene science the Labour Party voted with the National-led government to defeat Phillida Bunkle's private member's bill.
The Labour caucus decided a high priority, following a successful election, was to set up a structure for detailed consideration of all the important issues arising from the use of GM in New Zealand.
Election success was quickly followed by the announcement of a commitment for a Royal Commission on GM.
New Zealand has now had the most thorough and public examination of the GE question of any country in the world. There can be no-one in this country who hasn't been exposed to a wide range of views about the issues.
Yet, despite this protracted, expensive and highly transparent public discussion the opponents of the technology are just as entrenched in their antipathy as ever.
Why is that? After all, tens of thousands of New Zealanders have participated in discussions and debates all over the country. Many of them have made submissions to the Royal Commission and to the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA). Could it be that opponents are so locked into their protest they can't find a way out of opposition?
One suspects that's the case and therefore the vocal minority will arrogantly take upon themselves the role of being guardians for the whole nation. They will save us from the dire consequences of our ignorance - they are the only ones who know the real truth about GM.
So they will promise to tear up GM crops and destroy the research which will prove or disprove that GM is safe. Far better to have no GM in the environment than to know for sure what its impacts are.
This is the tyranny of the minority.
Not for them continued participation in a decision making process democratically arrived at.
Not for them the gravitas of sound science to support assertions about the dangers of GM in the environment.
Not for them the rights of individuals to choose to use products which independent regulators have pronounced safe after careful assessment.
For them, only the right to impose their own views on the rest of society.
Any science which contradicts or refutes their belief system is the work of bought scientists paid for by the sinful corporates which dominate the world while scientists who support their case are "independent".
But these protestations, like so many others, are figments of an over fertile imagination and a desire to invent convenient "facts" when the real stuff isn't there.
Let's have a look at claims of support for their cause.
Many times over, every day it seems, we hear various spokespeople for the cause claim to represent 68% of New Zealanders. It depends on which question you ask. All surveys have consistently shown a high level of concern about GM among New Zealanders - which is not all that surprising considering the exposure the issues have had and the relentless campaign to expose every little problem, fictional or not.
There are no reliable figures to show how many New Zealanders oppose the use of GM at high percentages at all - the figure for total opposition to any use of GM has hovered at less than 15% for a considerable period. A sizeable figure but somewhat short of a majority.
The high profile campaign to raise a million names against GE by the expiry of the moratorium only landed a smidgeon over 35,000 names including a bogus message from the Prime Minister, unborn children and duplicates. The target of 1 million names will be reached many years from now if current signing rates can be maintained against the falling trend.
Most people want GM to be treated with caution - the approach recommended by the Royal Commission and endorsed by the Government.
Caution is not exercised by pulling the blanket of a moratorium over our heads, putting the blinkers on and shutting our eyes and ears as well. It is best exercised by careful decision making taking into account all the facts at our disposal.
That is where we are at.
It's time to move on to look at those uses of gene technology which may provide health benefits, environmental solutions and economic value.
To work through the processes of sensible and careful decision making about what is useful to us and what is not.
And to trust in our ability to
make informed choices for the whole community, not just a