Why do we want a GE free NZ?

What does the Green Party have in common with the CEO of one of our largest food companies?

Goodman Fielder’s CEO Peter Reidie said in the Herald’s Chief Executives survey released today that we need “clean, green, pure, quality systems, ‘safe’ food, no GMO’s.”

Goodman Fielder owns a huge number of the iconic food brands on our supermarket shelves and in pantries around New Zealand; Edmonds, Vogel’s, Chesdale, Sizzlers to name just a few. They are a huge company, and it seems they agree with long standing Green Party policy that we should keep New Zealand farms and fields clean and green and free of GE to maintain our marketing advantage around the world.

Other CEO’s in the survey agree with our smart, green agriculture policies, although they might not realise it.

In the survey results they say that we need to protect our brand as producers of clean, safe food which means protecting the environment that production relies on.

They also subscribe to our view that as a country we shouldn’t be focusing on ever increasing production of low value products. We should be producing high quality food and fibre for customers who will pay top dollar.

Southern Cross’ Ian Macpherson said “we can grow food to sustain about 25 million people – that’s a tiny part of Asia – aren’t we spreading ourselves too thinly even now? Focus on high quality, premium prices and not volume.”

That’s exactly the vision that the Green Party have for New Zealand’s primary production sector.


6 Comments Posted

  1. Daniel: “For me the major problem is monocropping. […] it only takes one pathogen to evolve to target that strain, and you lose most of the world’s supply of that food.”

    Another problem with monocropping, I think, is that for any niche of people who have an aversion to that particular strain, it suddenly becomes very difficult for those people to get by*. My partner discovered a wheat allergy after 18 months of having health problems living in Australia… and afterwards discovered a niche of other immigrants with similar sudden issues.

    I mean, with something as universal as wheat, combined with the modern practice of manufacturing food, try finding regular products off the shelf that (a) don’t include that ingredient in some way and (b) don’t source it from the cheapest and bulkiest source available.

    * To be fair, I don’t know for certain if [Australia’s efforts to make its wheat more resistant to drought] are responsible for this, but I do still suspect it’s something that can happen with mono-cropping if it’s not managed cautiously.

  2. Out of interest, is there any clear indication of what might happen to New Zealand’s own food prices if focuses solely on high value products?

    Or is the idea that we export high value food grown locally, and then import low value GE-enhanced food for most of ourselves?

    something that appears to have happened with the meat market, in the last two or three of decades, is that much of the highest quality meat no longer makes it to New Zealand shelves. It’s already marked for high-paying purchasers on the far sides of the world before it’s left the farm.

    Not to suggest there isn’t an economic benefit of the higher value exports, and if that benefit ends up being spread evenly amongst everyone, it shouldn’t be an issue.

  3. What is the question?

    Personally, I don’t think we should be exporting our nutrients at all, but that’s just me.

  4. First answer is “because we can”… and nobody ELSE can… which is a point of difference/uniqueness we may find sellable in future and which can only be given up once. There is no hurry.

  5. I think New Zealand should remain permanently GM-free. But one can oppose GM foods for many different reasons, of varying legitimacy. I’m afraid none of the legitimate ones are fairly represented by the word “Frankenfoods”. Every technological advance humanity makes is in some sense “playing God”, so that’s a terribly weak argument.

    Toxicity is potentially a legitimate concern. Theoretically, careful testing with an eye to the rights of the consumer could eliminate it. I don’t trust today’s food corporations to do that. But the reason I don’t trust them to do that is because they already do a lot of toxic things to foods with (e.g.) pesticides; GM will just be one more way they poison us, not something new and terrifying.

    Then there’s the seed sterility issue. The business model is to sell plants that won’t produce any seed, so the farmer has to go back to the company every year. Unfair, and economically destructive, but again not radically different from what already happens with hybrid crops. Where GM is likely to make it worse is that the difference in yield and marketability between GM and non-GM products is likely to be larger than the difference between hybrid and non-hybrid products, so the farmers would be forgoing more benefits if they couldn’t pay.

    For me the major problem is monocropping. Again, this already happens with conventional crops, but there’s likely to be at least a little genetic variation within a field of any given conventional crop. A GM field could be absolutely uniform. And the nature of the market is such that whichever GM crop gives the highest yield of the most valuable product, will outsell all the alternatives and end up dominating the world’s food supply. Then it only takes one pathogen to evolve to target that strain, and you lose most of the world’s supply of that food.

    I’ve seen it suggested that farmers be required to have a minimum amount of non-GM plants, but how would you maintain that in a market system? On the assumption that the GM plants are going to have higher yields and/or better quality, any farmer who quietly lets the 1/5 requirement go, and lets the other farmers take up the slack, is going to make more money. And there you have a classic Tragedy of the Commons setup.

    So I have a suggestion to overcome the monocropping problem — it’s only an idea, mind. There needs to be a place somewhere in the world that specializes in growing non-GM crops of many different species, so as to provide genetic variation with which to enrich the GM crops elsewhere when needed. It would probably need to pass strict laws against GMOs to begin with, but once it establishes a trade advantage in organic food those laws should help rather than hinder its market.

    This won’t work just anywhere, of course. The place in question would need to be physically isolated and have world-class biosecurity protocols. It would need to be environmentally healthy with clean air and water and a decent amount of wild forest cover to soak up pollution and prevent erosion. It should ideally be north-south oriented so that both cool-climate and warm-climate crops can be grown there. Tell me when this begins to sound familiar…

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