Opportunities Party identifies safe, valuable use of genetic technology

2 May, 2019

The Forest Owners Association and Federated Farmers congratulate the Opportunities Party for its balanced and sensible gene editing policy, which recognises the significant economic and environmental benefits gene editing technology can provide.
The presidents of the respective organisations, Peter Weir and Katie Milne, say the time for an informed public debate is well overdue as genetic technologies have changed dramatically in recent years and their safety and value has been proven oversees.    
The Top Party is quite right in highlighting the fact that modern genetic science is no longer about introducing the genetics of one species into another quite different species, the two presidents say.
“Gene editing is a sophisticated process of deliberately achieving with a high degree of certainty what nature and other methods of genetic manipulation achieve randomly,” Weir says.
One particular opportunity is to develop sterile Douglas-fir as a way to prevent the spread of wilding trees.
The use of sterile trees has the potential to save farmers and the Crown millions of dollars, Milne says.
“The current CRISPR-Cas technology shows us ways to inhibit production of fertile seeds or pollen, without altering any other aspect of the tree.  The tree will not be able to spread seeds into surrounding pasture-land.  That solves the problem of wilding trees, which are considered New Zealand’s most expensive pest plant to control.  
“The tree’s growth is instead diverted into producing timber.”
Weir says this ‘grown-up’ approach to tree science is standard practice in a number of other parts of the world, particularly in North and South America.
There is potential for use of gene technology in areas such as predator control, greenhouse gas emissions, more sustainable food production and perhaps even in tackling kauri dieback.  These options deserve research and public debate.
“In New Zealand the mind-set that gene editing and genetic engineering are scientific no-go areas has been predominant in our political parties for years.  It’s good that TOP has joined the National Party in challenging this mind-set,” Katie says.