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Genetic modification review being called for, reigniting debate

By Cushla Norman

Reporter – 1News

Genetic modification (GM) was once such a highly charged issue it prompted thousand to protest against the practice.

But almost two decades on, pro-GM groups say the benefits have been ignored and New Zealand is getting left behind the rest of the world because of its rigid stance.

Currently, GM is found only in medicines and some ingredients in imported food, like the Impossible Burger.

The plant-based patty from California contains a genetically-modified ingredient, soy leghemoglobin, which makes the patty taste and even bleed like the real thing.

It’s come under some criticism, but one pro-GM organisation BioTechNZ thinks it’s not attracting the same opposition as it might have in the past.

“We’re not seeing the public picketing in front of Countdown,” said BioTechNZ executive director Zahra Champion.

She thinks there’s been a shift in attitudes towards GM.

“I feel like this generation is ready for new technologies, we can look at the risk and benefit,” said Champion.

It’s something the Productivity Commission wants explored also, calling for a full review of GM technology regulations – the first since 2001.

But GE Free NZ is concerned about the motives behind the push for the review and fears deregulation, which it says can’t happen.

“Nature must be protected from this very powerful technology, people must be protected,” said Jon Carapiet, spokesperson for GE Free NZ.

He said the tight controls on GM have served New Zealand well.

“We’ve actually had a very good reputation for safe food and that’s more important than ever before,” said Carapiet.

At the moment the technology is only confined to research labs. Champion said the controls are frustrating for some businesses.

“We have amazing examples in this space where New Zealand companies could make a bigger difference if they were allowed to use gene editing,” said Champion.

Farmers say GM would bring big gains for them and the environment. They’re keen to enter into the debate which they say has been sidelined since the 2005 general election.

“We’re at risk of missing out if we sort of refuse to partake in what the rest of the world is doing quite frankly,” said Andrew Hoggard from Federated Farmers.

In response to the Productivity Commission, the Government said it’s “timely to start informed conversations around New Zealand’s use of GM technologies”.

But now the Environment Minister David Parker says the debate will be restricted to just medicines, saying there is still a suspicion around genetically-modified food.

“It’s actually something that I share….we’ve got to be very careful in that space so we are not contemplating anything there,” Parker said.

BioTechNZ Our aim is to raise awareness and increase the understanding to enable our nation to embrace the best opportunities biotech offers to us daily, helping us live better, healthier and more productive lives.