By Moran, Alan
Review - Institute of Public Affairs , Vol. 53, No. 3
REVERING FALSE GODS
The New Zealand Government may be on the verge of worshipping the Green Baal and throttling the nation's agriculture by banning biotechnology.
The implications of this are particularly profound for Australia. We share many regulatory, political and commercial institutions with New Zealand, not the least being a common regulatory oversight over food. Our economies are closely integrated and cultural ties are strong. In simple terms, New Zealand's decision to turn its back on the modern world would put pressure on Australia to consider doing likewise.
Preventing the approval of genetically modified (GM) foods has become the talisman of many activists around the world. They argue that the technology may be unsafe. They clothe their opposition to the technology behind the nefarious `precautionary principle' (which would prevent any new technology in any industry). Other strings to their opposition bow include calls for full information (which would impose considerable costs) or claims about possible adulteration of organic crops.
In fact, genetic engineering is what humans have been doing with plants ever since we ceased to be huntergatherers. The modern technology which directly modifies plants' genetic structure is now commonly used across a range of foods, and totally dominates the production of two of the most common foodstuffs--corn and soybean. For ten years now, the USA has been a vast testing ground for the technology. This followed the Food and Drug Administration (among other regulatory bodies) certifying the plant adaptations as safe. 200 million Americans have been eating GM food every day for the past six years.
The result? On the one hand, not one death, not one hospitalization, not one tummyache. On the other, a vast lift in productivity as farmers were able to reduce pesticide usage. Future gains are in the offing from GM developments that allow water conservation, plant growth in saline areas, improved ripening characteristics, plant incorporation of vitamin additions and a host of other productivity and health improvements
GM is, however, a potent symbol for the Green levellers opposed to all modern technology, other than that which allows them to network on the Internet and travel to demos. In Europe, radical Greens and their cohort consumerists have been busy destroying experimental crops wherever they can find them. Not for them the scientific process of examining the evidence and determining future action in the light of it!
ALL EYES ON THE KIWIS
For the past two years New Zealand has been an improbable world centre for reviewing GM technology. The Green Party and the left-wing Alliance Party count many GM opponents among their supporters. For some of these the task is to undermine globalization (code for `US domination'). Others see it as a means to arrest economic progress and return us to the simpler, less changeable world to which they affect a romantic attachment.
A Royal Commission was established, at the Green and Alliance parties' behest, to sift through the scientific evidence and determine whether or not this new technology had a place in New Zealand.
Given the pivotal nature of agriculture to the prosperity of New Zealand, this should have been unnecessary. New Zealand, like Australia, cannot afford the luxury of low-tech, or lagging, agricultural methods. But such notions would never impress the Enemies of Progress, who saw two benefits in having a Royal Commission. First, it could be used as an excuse to justify a `moratorium' on any developments and inground tests. Second, this (and the publicity it would bring) could be used to energize their supporters and spread scare campaigns. It was also thought by some that a Royal Commission might offer ambiguous findings or even be gullible enough to sympathize with their own views.
The Royal Commission was chaired by Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, a former Chief Justice with an impeccable legal and analytical reputation. …