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Consultation on possum control must be genuine

Public consultation on possum control must be genuine

Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons is welcoming the decision to consult the public over the acceptability of possum control methods but has warned such consultation must be genuine.

“Consultation means listening and taking heed of what people say. It is not the same as brainwashing them into agreeing with you,” she said.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FoRST) has announced a $10-20 million project to develop biological methods of controlling possums using genetic engineering techniques.

Ms Fitzsimons said she had some concerns about FoRST’s statement that it was funding social scientists “to ensure the public is comfortable with the biological methods proposed”.

“The public should not be presented with a fait accompli on this matter. Rather than trying to convince New Zealanders that biological controls are completely innocuous, the social scientists should be developing a broad discussion document which sets out all the options and asks people’s views.

“We shouldn’t be putting all our possum eggs in one basket. This project seems to be focused exclusively on developing possum control through genetic engineering. If that is all we look for, that is all we will find, and the public will be told there is no alternative.”

Ms Fitzsimons said genetically engineered organisms were prone to behave in unexpected ways when released into the environment because more than one function was affected by the genetic transfer. “These changes are virtually impossible to predict in advance.

“New Zealanders have said clearly, time after time, that they accept genetic engineering techniques in the laboratory but not the release of live genetically engineered organisms into the environment.

“The development of a possum sterility chemical is a very clever idea, but the risks of administering it by releasing a live organism would be huge for our native biodiversity.

“It would be impossible to be 100% certain in advance that a nematode or bacteria or virus was specific only to possums. Even if it appears to be it may mutate later to affect other wildlife. There is also the risk to Australian possums which are a protected, native animal there.”

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