'We need some acceleration': Farming leader calls for action on genetic modification

A farming leader says New Zealand needs to have a mature conversation about genetic modification and risks falling behind the rest of the world on the issue.

AgResearch this week provided an update on a project looking at genetically modified grass which could help reduce on-farm greenhouse gas emissions.

Field trials of the ryegrass are being carried out in the United States to determine whether the grass might have the potential environmental benefits, such as reduced methane emissions and reduced nitrogen excretion, earlier modelling suggests.

Federated Farmers President Katie Milne said the progress being made on the ryegrass serves as a hurry up for New Zealand to get on with a mature national conversation about genetic modification.

"We've all agreed climate change and our international commitments on greenhouse gas reductions presents big challenges to our economy and way of life but we're currently sidelining a potential major tool that could help farmers tackle ruminant methane and excreted nitrogen," she said.

Science technicians begin harvesting the HME ryegrass grown in the United States.
Science technicians begin harvesting the HME ryegrass grown in the United States. Photo credit: Supplied

"It's bordering on ridiculous that our current laws on GM have forced AgResearch to go to the United States to simulate the sort of growing conditions found in New Zealand as they trial the properties of genetically modified High Metabolisable Energy (HME) ryegrass," said Milne.

In August a panel of experts convened by New Zealand's Royal Society found there was an "urgent need" for a fresh look at how the controversial technology could be used in New Zealand.

Milne said New Zealand risked falling further behind progress on this in other parts of the world.

She said genetic technologies could also be a powerful tool for the kauri dieback calamity and our drive to be predator-free.

"No-one is saying we should rush into genetic modification overnight, or that it is the answer to everything. But discussion at government level on progressing measured debate and a review of our current rules appears to be moving a glacial pace. We need some acceleration."