Opinion: Time we accept genetic modification to meet world’s desperate global food needs

by | Apr 27, 2022 | News

New Zealand needs to finally accept genetic modification (GM) products in a world of climate change and desperate global food needs, says BiotechNZ executive director Dr Zahra Champion.­

While New Zealand is lagging behind the rest of the world because of its anti-GM approach, there has been a shift in attitude towards GM and new age technologies.

It is time for a full regulatory review of genetically modified organisms and technologies (GM), according to a groundbreaking report by the Productivity Commission.

The report says  there have been major advances in GM in recent years  and gene-editing techniques.

Dr Champion says the government  is proceeding too slowly with regards to genetic modification, especially in light of climate change. “They want to talk about New Zealand’s use of GM tech but we need action or we will be left far behind. Future generations will not be interested in staying in Aotearoa if we don’t use cutting edge technologies. We will see more brain drain and New Zealand will miss out on the fourth industrial revolution”, she says.

“There are many ways we can use biotech to achieve significant change while reducing any perceived risks still being risk adverse. I am frustrated New Zealand is not doing more in the biotech world. The risk is that the biotechnology will be lost on New Zealand, at a time plant-based food and stem cell meat is seeking huge demand. We need to start looking at changing old regulations so we can use new technologies.”

Dr Champion says there have been tremendous advances in GM since the legislation was put in place. “GM can grow productivity and the economy, help with biosecurity risks and respond to climate change risks. Gene-editing tech can help with drought tolerance, disease resistance, fruit ripening and reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, she says.

Globally, there have been substantial advances in gene editing agricultural, horticultural, food production and health science technologies.New Zealand has a strong reputation for safe food but at the moment GM technology is confined to research labs. Champion says the regulations are frustrating for some businesses.

“Some companies are incredible and they could make a bigger difference if they were allowed to use gene editing”, says Champion.

The global biotech market is forecast to be worth $US729 billion by 2025. New Zealand is positioned well: ranked fourth in the world for innovation potential in biotech.

Currently, no genetically modified products manufactured in New Zealand are commercially available. All use of GM techniques must have approval under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms  Act.

BioTech New Zealand
Previously known as NZBIO, BioTechNZ joined the New Zealand Tech Alliance in July 2018. Their vision is to maximise New Zealands’ bioscience and technology capability to create a strong New Zealand bioeconomy. BioTechNZ connects innovators, investors, regulators, researchers, social entrepreneurs and interested public. They aim to foster debate and increase understanding of biotechnology to enable New Zealand to embrace the best opportunities biotech offers.

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