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February, 2023

Forest Owners want genetic technology approved

The Forest Owners Organisation says New Zealand needs to concentrate on the safety of genetic technology on a case-by-case basis rather than persisting with blanket bans.

The FOA wants approval to introduce Douglas fir trees which can’t reproduce and so remove the risk of them giving rise to wilding trees.

It says the current New Zealand legislation blanket-ban on genetic technology is outmoded, inconsistent and out of step with much of the rest of the world. 

It says New Zealand urgently needs to update its legislation to bring our management of the risks surrounding genetic technology, and the opportunities it provides, into the modern era.

The Association’s President, Grant Dodson, says the release of the Te Puna Whakaaronui Report today (16 Feb eds) is a reminder of the lost opportunities blocked by the 1996 Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

“HSNO is nearly two decades old, and in the meantime how to guarantee the safety of genetic technology has become well known.” 

“Our researchers can now target gene rearrangements with technology such as CRISPR-Cas9.  Years of wordwide experience has shown genetic technology is as safe as conventional breeding.”

Grant Dodson points to examples in the Te Puna Whakaaronui Report as indicating the advantages of using genetic technology.

“An insect resistant eggplant in Bangladesh lets the farmers there avoid using dangerous pesticides.  It’s better for the environment and for the farmers’ health.”

“Here, Scion’s development of a sterile Douglas fir has been stalled in the lab for years.  If we could turn off the reproduction mechanism, we could get trees which can’t seed and so no wilding trees would spread.”

“At the moment wilding conifers are a severe 1.8 million hectare problem in this country and getting worse,” Grant Dodson says.

He says a Curia survey earlier this month showed that more people supported using genetic technology to create sterile Douglas fir, than were against it.

“We’ve done previous research and it signals that while most people couldn’t care less, the number in support of using genetic technology in forestry, or to combat climate change, outnumbers the members of the population who oppose it.”

“It’s not the bogey-man in the public mind that some campaigners make it out to be.”


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