An extension of the moratorium on GMO release would affect only a very small part of New Zealand’s biological research effort.
It would not, as is often suggested, cripple New Zealand science.
Government funds keep the gene science sector afloat, according to recent reports assessing the state of the industry. Government channels the bulk of biological science funding through the Foundation for Research Science and Technology (FRST). The Sustainability Council analysed that funding for the 2000⁄01 year (which is almost identical to the 2001⁄02 year).
“Only 3% of the $214 million allocated to biological research went to produce a GM related product or solution” said Sustainability Council Executive Director Simon Terry. “Even less of that research depends on the eventual release of GMOs.”
The figures showed that a further 12.5% of the funding was allocated to preliminary research which “may or may not” lead to GM products or solutions.
“Though GMOs get all the publicity, research involving GMO release is a small part of biotechnology” he said.
“In fact, most of our work in biological science depends on a combination of conventional technology and gene techniques that do not involve gene modification” said Mr Terry. “New Scientist magazine recently reported on the great partnership developing between conventional plant breeders and gene science that does not involve GM”.
Council analysis further established that Government-funded entities, in particular the Crown Research Institutes (CRIs), dominate the push to take GMOs into the field. Seven out of eight field trials currently underway, or approved and likely to proceed, are CRI projects.
“The Sustainability Council is calling for a five year moratorium to enable proper study of all the issues surrounding GM release”.
“What these numbers show is that an extension of the moratorium will clearly not cripple biological science, as is so often suggested” he said “European scientists have been working under a de facto moratorium on commercial release for nearly four years. Biological science in Europe has not shut down as a result” he said.
“It does not make sense to push for a quick decision on commercial GM release when only a small part of biological research would be affected and there are still so many unknowns” concluded Mr Terry. “Our ‘clean green’ image would however be negatively affected”.
“During the moratorium on GMO release, conventional and other gene research, including GM medical research, will continue to develop apace” said Mr Terry.
New Zealand can also reap the current gains available through branding its products as free from GMOs.