The Country - Opinion: How GM technology can help us

The GM debate needs to be resolved to benefit New Zealand agriculture, writes Federated Farmers Bay of Plenty provincial president Darryl Jensen.

To GM or not GM, that is the question.

GM is a hotly debated topic with a lot of emotion attached to the debate. Even within Federated Farmers there is an array of opinions on this subject.

But it needs to be resolved. The debate needs to be public, but it is a political hot-potato no one wants to front on.

In New Zealand we have scientists doing great things in the agricultural, horticultural and arable sectors with GM. The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment and our Seed Companies had $10 million for field trials, but due to difficulties navigating the NZs Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, likely restrictions on further research and co-funder sensitivity, with overseas' markets, means it is easier to do the trials offshore.

At the present time a New Zealand developed GM grass is going to undergo field trials in the United States with the chance this High Metabolisable Energy ryegrass may never be grown here.

Read more from Federated Farmers here.

This ryegrass under laboratory conditions, has proven to reduce methane, nitrous oxide emissions and nitrogen leaching. In these times of environment and climatic challenges this type of GM technology could give us farmers the competitive edge required by the community and business.

This type of research has huge benefits for our farming community in growing more grass (dry matter) to feed our animals with less fertiliser inputs therefore creating less reliance on having to use imported feeds in times of possible feed shortages.

This type of work in plant and animal research has been going on for decades, so why now do we get all concerned about it? Wider society needs to understand GM is not doing strange things to a plant – the process is just taking an attribute and enhancing that feature for the greater good.

Yes, New Zealand is a small nation, but we can have a point of difference that gives us the competitive edge to make our farming more viable. GM technology can help us.