Wednesday, 17 July 2019 10:55

Should NZ embrace gene editing?

Written by  Peter Burke
Lockwood Smith believes NZ is missing out on producing climate change solutions because of our ban on gene editing. Lockwood Smith believes NZ is missing out on producing climate change solutions because of our ban on gene editing.

A plea for New Zealand to embrace gene editing is being sounded by Sir Lockwood Smith.

Smith is a former NZ High Commissioner to London, Speaker of Parliament, trade minister and Massey University scientist.

He told the recent Federated Farmers annual conference that NZ, by holding out on gene editing, is missing an opportunity to deal with climate change and carbon emissions, and to improve pasture species.

Smith says gene editing is a safe process that simply involves slightly altering the best genes in a particular species of animal or plant. 

Embracing gene editing is critically important to enable NZ to progress in key primary sector areas, Smith told the conference. 

Opposition to gene editing “is based on ignorance, and I don’t mean that in an unkind way, I just mean there’s a lack of understanding.

“People are more fearful of wider genetic modification. This involves taking genes from one species and using them in another one… notably the toad/gene thing, which is the other end of gene technology and a track we don’t need to go down right now.” 

Start gene editing now, Smith urged the conference. This is needed now because new pasture species are being researched and gene editing would make them much more efficient.

But it would need doing in the US as it’s banned in NZ. “Our primary industries are suffering financially as a result of this.” 

Scientists in NZ must speak up, says Smith. And news media should not just cover people with colourful, flamboyant views, but also talk to respected scientists.

Asked about Smith’s views on gene editing, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor urged caution. He says big marketers of NZ meat and dairy told him recently in London that they don’t want products in any way genetically modified. 

These companies say NZ has a market advantage in not having GMOs in food. But O’Connor doesn’t rule it out completely for the future, he said.      

“Clearly gene editing is incredibly valuable… but we must ask, who are the consumers of our products and what are they looking for? Being non-GMO gives NZ an advantage now but will it in future and what are the trade offs?” 

O’Connor says he’s not dismissing the technology but it needs a lot more work and discussion for a final decision.

More like this

Attracting more ag students

The numbers of students taking up agricultural degrees at Massey University is not really increasing, according to Professor Peter Kemp – head of the School of Agriculture and Environment at Massey.

Demand for better water quality grows

Public attitudes on environmental issues are driving policy, according to the director of the Farmed Landscapes Research Centre (FLRC) at Massey University.

Public-driven policy

Public attitudes are very strong on environmental issues such as clean water and that is driving policy according to the Director of the Farmed Landscapes Research Centre (FLRC) at Massey University.


Feds call for pause on regulations

The Government has been warned that it needs to back off some of its signalled regulations if it wants farming to help the NZ economy recover from the COVID-19 hit.


Tough time on farm for many

Under pressure from drought and COVID-19, Woodville dairy farmer Ben Allomes says: ‘we can’t shut our doors and just walk away’.

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Deafening silence

Your old mate reckons it’s incredible how people’s attitudes have changed since the COVID-19 crisis hit us.

Celibate times

A mate of the Hound’s reckons the COVID lockdown must be getting serious when we are being told not to…

» Connect with Rural News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Popular Reads

Rules driving farmers out

New farming rules around sustainability are driving elderly farmers out of the dairy industry, says agri-economist Phil Journeaux.