Will new farming leader jeopardise NZ’s GE-free advantage?
The recent election of William Rolleston as president of Federated Farmers could mean a push towards genetic engineering
(GE) in farming, warns the Soil & Health Association. Dr Rolleston has for many years been a proponent of GE, and some farmers, both organic and
conventional, fear he may use his position to continue to promote the risky, unwanted and unnecessary technology.
“Markets the world over want clean, green, GE-free and organic food,” says Marion Thomson, co-chair of Soil & Health. “New Zealand is in the perfect position to satisfy this demand by remaining GE-free in our farming and
environment. It’s not just organic farmers who want to stay GE-free; many other producers, such as Pure Hawkes Bay,
recognise the advantages.”
Federated Farmers has to date said that farmers should have the right to choose how they farm. However in practice GE
crops cannot coexist with GE-free crops.
“Once the genie is out of the bottle there is no putting it back in,” says Thomson. “Overseas experience shows crop
contamination causes huge problems for GE-free farmers, such as loss of markets, loss of organic certification and court
Soil & Health deplores the fact that millions of dollars of New Zealand taxpayers’ money has been spent on GE experiments over
the past two decades, with no benefits yet produced. GE crops planted overseas have led to more pesticides being used,
the rise of resistant pests and ‘superweeds’, and no long-term increases in yields. Our public money should instead be
spent on agricultural research that will benefit everyone: farmers and consumers, our health, economy and the
“Farmers already have great systems and know-how – we don’t need GE,” says Thomson. “Organic and biological practices
provide particular benefits such as excellent soil health and structure, animal health, biodiversity, drought-resistance
and nutrient density, plus organic products are free from nasty chemicals.”