Climate change Minister James Shaw, questioned in Parliament yesterday, said he stood by his statement during an interview on Q+A last month that when it comes to the application of GE technology in New Zealand, he”will be led by the science on it.”
But Federated Farmers is disappointed that Mr Shaw proceeded to disagree with the former Prime Minister’s chief scientist, Sir Peter Gluckman, who said “I’ll go as far as to say that I cannot see a way that agriculture in New Zealand will be sustainable over the long run in the face of environmental change and consumer preferences without using gene editing.”
Nor did Mr Shaw agree with Sir Peter when he said “There is no way that we will get a reduction in methane production, and I can see no way that we will see an economic advantage for farmers as we shift to more plant-based foods, without using gene editing.”
The questions were asked by National’s spokesman on climate change, Todd Muller.
Hansard provides a record of Mr Muller’s subsequent questions and Mr Shaw’s replies.
Todd Muller: When he said he would be—and I quote—”led by the science”, did he mean all science or just the science that fits his political narrative?
Hon JAMES SHAW: If the member looks at the previous supplementary questions, he’ll see that what Sir Peter Gluckman was saying is that he didn’t see any other ways than GE to achieve those outcomes. I do see other ways.
Todd Muller: What are the other ways of addressing agriculture emission reduction that he thinks the chief scientist has not captured in his assessment?
Hon JAMES SHAW: I can’t comment on what the former Chief Science Advisor included in his assessment, but if the member’s interested, I would advise him to read the report of the Biological Emissions Reference Group that the previous Government set up. It took a number of years looking at a range of options for how agricultural emissions could be reduced and found that, actually, with a high degree of confidence, agriculture would be able to reduce emissions by at least 10 percent by 2030, and found with a similarly high degree of confidence that it would be able to reduce it by at least 30 percent by 2050.
Todd Muller: A final supplementary: does he consider climate change to be a sufficiently serious global issue that all science and innovations, including GE, need to be considered, or does he just think it is a pick and choose menu?
Hon JAMES SHAW: Well, I think that policy makers always have options in front of them about what choices to make, but I certainly do believe that climate change is not just the greatest challenge of our time but, potentially, the greatest challenge of all time.
Federated Farmers released a statement today in response to the Green Party’s apparent unwillingness to even have a discussion on the potential of genetic engineering to provide solutions to some of our most pressing environmental issues .
“Terse answers from Climate Change Minister James Shaw to Parliamentary questions this week indicate the Greens find the GE topic too hot to handle. But discussions on pragmatic and science-based policies should not be held to ransom by merely trying to keep a vocal section of your political party’s membership happy,” Federated Farmers climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.
He referenced media reports about a ryegrass developed by NZ AgResearch using gene editing. It can substantially reduce methane emissions from cattle which eat it. Under our current laws the grass cannot be grown in New Zealand, and field trials are having to take place in the United States.
He also referenced Todd Muller’s asking Mr Shaw if he agreed with Sir Peter’s statement that NZ agriculture would struggle to be sustainable in the long term without using gene editing.
Mr Shaw’s one word reply was “No”, the same reply he gave when asked if he agreed with Sir Peter that “…there is no way that we will get a reduction in methane production, and I can see no way that we will see an economic advantage for farmers as we shift to more plant-based foods, without using gene editing”.
“Mr Shaw didn’t have to agree with Sir Peter Gluckman but we do hope he won’t be so quick to shut down discussion of GE’s potential in talks with groups such as Federated Farmers and others,” Andrew says.
“We’ve already had Green MP and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage tell Predator-free NZ not to pursue the option of GE technologies as an answer to eradication of possums, rats and other pests.
“Farmers are being called on to make deep cuts in emissions from their livestock. Just about the only way were going to be able to do that, without crippling the viability of many farms, are breakthrough technologies still being worked on.
Federated Farmers’ position is that New Zealand should at least be open to the potential of GE and should continue scientific and field research on its advantages and disadvantages, at the same time as having an open-minded and rational debate with all New Zealanders.
Sources: Hansard, Federated Farmers