|ecoglobe news (5 September 1999)|
By ALAN SAMSON
OPPONENTS of genetic engineering may have found an unwitting ally in Environment Minister Simon Upton.
Giving the inaugural Robert C Barnard lecture to one of the most prestigious science bodies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington this week, Mr Upton steered protesters to a possible new avenue of protest.
He likened controversy about the possible field production of genetically modified crops to the debate about the decision to keep New Zealand nuclear-free.
"The political reality is that, whatever the assurances about risk, New Zealanders not only want no connection with things nuclear, they have turned the stance to to one of positive advantage in promoting New Zealand as a nuclear-free tourist destination and food producer," Mr Upton said.
"Whether that makes any rational sense, it is perceived by some businesses as a real advantage in the marketplace.
"Given the biological nature of New Zealand's economy, it is to my mind inconceivable that New Zealand would adopt such an approach to the use of biotechnology.
"But there is no question that, given the wide provisions of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, an argument could be mounted against the field release of genetically modified crops on the grounds that any benefits alleged in support of their release were outweighted by the costs to those who sought to maintain a GM-free growing environment.
An application that did not pose significant adverse consequences or raise a risk of undesirable self-sustaining populations would be likely to win approval from the Ervironmental Risk Management Authority.
"But it would be a Phyrric victory if, as in Britain, the result was mindless destruction of the crops once planted."
Threats of vandalism were no basis for a defense policy, he said.
But, equally, blunt assertions by experts that the risks were acceptable were not persuasive if people felt that the environment they lived in was being exposed "irrevocably and without their consent" to a risk they did not understand.
At the same time, Mr Upton said a ban or moratorium on genetic research would lead to scientific paralysis.
[The Minister's web site: www.arcadia.co.nz]
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