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PC's Opinion: An (Updated) Anatomy of Compromise

This opinion piece is the fourth in a new series of "PC's Weekly Opinion" - a pithy, heavily-spiced editorial from Peter Cresswell that can be delivered to your in-box once a week. If you like what you read then feel free to forward it to everyone you've ever met, and to subscribe at www.libz.org . And if you don’t like what you read, then learn to get over it.

PC's Weekly Opinion

An (Updated) Anatomy of Compromise

By Peter Cresswell

WWF Wrestling has nothing on this: a three-way battle between politics, science and the Stone Age.

In the red corner- New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark with the report from the Royal Commission into Genetic Modification in hand. Locked in the dressing room, fighting to get out, are the scientists, researchers and producers of genetically modified organisms who have been locked in for the last three years. In the Green corner - assorted tribalists and environmentalists, twenty-first century representatives from the stone age, threatening to withdraw their political support for Clark's government if she lets the gene genie out of the bottle. Stone Agers battling for the plains of heaven.

Yesterday Helen Clark bravely stepped into the ring, waved around the Royal Commission's report, and announced her decision. Like the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (which tried to find a middle path between liberty and slavery), Clark went for a middle path between science and mysticism. The Clark Compromise is likely to prove as unsuccessful as the Missouri Compromise.

She told us that the scientists could now come out blinking into the light, that science is a-coming on through and the white-coated ones are in the vanguard of progress! In the same breath she reminded the Stone Agers that she is not allowing unrestricted use and development of genetically modified organisms, so don't worry y'all - Ma Helen's got the lid on the pot.

How could she promise both? Easily - she's a politician. As Tom Waits once said, "the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away." Science will now be 'free' to conduct field trials into genetic modification, but scientists will have whole new levels of bureaucracy to deal with. As Clark's Minister Marian Hobbs reminded us in parliament yesterday, New Zealand already has the most onerous shackles on GE research and production anywhere in the world, and her government intends to fasten those shackles even tighter.

Included in those shackles will be a "strengthened" law ensuring that requests for permission to conduct GM research are more expensive, more time consuming and the outcome even less certain than at present; a new clause in that law allowing Maori tribalists more say in whether or not permission is granted; and a new 'Bioethics Council' to consider the future of the technology with respect to the Maori tribalists' "cultural and spiritual concerns."

What are those "concerns" that the 'Bioethics Council' will be required to address? What are the dangers they must address? Speaking to us direct from the Stone Age, Cabinet Minister Sandra Lee tells us. "Mixing the mauri, or life energy, of different species to create so-called transgenic organisms is," she says, "generally repugnant to many Maori." Labour MP John Tamihere said that Maori objected to GE because it threatens "genealogical purity."

Rather than toss this mystic 'mauri' bullshit back into the ashcan of history where it belongs, in New Zealand it is now to be further enshrined into law. What reaction has this shameful compromise received?

Producers and scientists, pathetically grateful for being allowed to work at all, have predictably hailed this outcome as "pragmatic," and a victory for common sense. The Green Party - who, ended last week threatening to bring down the government over the issue - have meekly withdrawn.

But the sandalled vandals and the eco-terrorists are now promising that "direct action" will be forthcoming against any transgressors of Mother Nature's 'life force': Greenpeace have called for supporters to take things into their own hands; the 3,000 strong 'Green Gloves' organisation have promised to destroy field trials wherever and whenever they occur; and an organisation calling themselves the 'Maori Woman's Network against GE' have reportedly already occupied the offices of the Environmental Risk Management Authority, and are no doubt hanging voodoo dolls around the building as we speak.

Unswayed by the Clark Compromise, the environmental Taleban are already out in force. The Missouri Compromise failed to lance the boil of slavery, making the eventual civil war over the issue almost inevitable. The Clark Compromise is equally unsatisfying, throwing bones to the Stone Agers while shackling the scientists.

Like all such "pragmatic" compromises, the result is inevitable disaster.

"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." So said the Royal Commission's report into genetic modification. What it failed to point out was that frontier will be closed off to us if the savages from the stone age are not thrown out of polite debate.

Pity our Prime Minister was not up to it.

© Libz.org 2001


This column may be reproduced anywhere, anytime, by anyone - just as long as it is reproduced in full, with attribution to libz.org, and that you let Peter know at organon@ihug.co.nz .


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