United Future leader Peter Dunne yesterday ventured into the debate over GM release with a media statement that paints an entirely misleading picture of what is at stake for the economy, said Sustainability Council Executive Director Simon Terry.

Dunne states that “lagging behind in the application of such technology could see us lose many of our export markets … and lead to long term decline” and implies that this is New Zealand’s fate if the moratorium is not lifted.

Dunne has missed the fact that even the most ardent advocates of GM release have had difficulty identifying any products available in the next few years that they believe offer advantages to New Zealand farmers. Federated Farmers does not believe any GM crop varieties currently available are attractive and it will be five years before substantially different varieties are on the market. Crop and Food Research expects that it will be at least five years before the first GM crop developed in New Zealand is commercialised. Holding back on the application of GM crops for five years, as the Sustainability Council advocates, therefore involves no real cost.

What it protects against is the damage to New Zealand’s clean green brand that is clearly recorded in the market research commissioned by Government. Between 20% and 30% of consumers in New Zealand’s biggest markets stated that they would cease to buy New Zealand food produce if certain GM products were released in this country. This is brand contamination and is a major risk from even limited GM release at this time. It is the countries that have embraced GM agriculture that have lost export markets – due to extraordinary levels of consumer resistance to GM food.

Dunne’s comments are made as though he had been absent from a debate that has gone far beyond dire warnings about the economy going to ruin if restraints on GM release are not dropped now. He presents the options as though it is take all now or not at all. The real debate is focused on how long commercial release should be restrained and on identifying what exactly will offer benefits under New Zealand conditions.

Yesterday’s contribution on this and other aspects of the GM debate do not advance public understanding of a very important issue.