Peter K. Dearden
Last week Genetics Otago wrapped up the University of Otago Lecture Winter Lecture Series with a lecture from A/P John Knight who spoke on the marketing aspects of food which has been genetically modified. John’s research looks at the response of overseas markets to genetic modification in New Zealand, and his research suggests that the impact of growing GM crops on our ‘clean, green’ image, would be less than we think it would be.
John can be a polarising figure, and his research has produced surprising results, but the key point here is that it IS research. John publishes his research, it is peer reviewed, and behind it is solid data.
Whilst many people may not agree with what John is saying, it is interesting to note that before his talks on Wednesday and Thursday last week, GE Free NZ issued a press release stating that John’s work is outdated, with demands that the University of Otago put caveats on John’s work .
So what is the truth here? The fact is, John has taken the initiative and he’s asked the questions and investigated an aspect of Genetic Modification that I think many New Zealanders want to know about. One issue raised at the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification is the impact on our overseas image; John has done some research to address that. You might think his methods are wrong, or that he asked the wrong questions, but at least he has asked the questions, and openly presented the data with the methods used to obtain it; giving us the opportunity to interpret what he says, and make our own mind up.
Research doesn’t always provide us with an answer to the question we want, but what it does do is provide data that can be used to make an informed decision. Surely this is what we need in contentious issues such as Genetic Modification which is obviously an issue that excites strong feelings. In a contained, controlled, research context it is a vital tool to help us understand and improve our world.
Should we be growing transgenic crops? Is Genetic Modification the way forward? The answers to those questions are for YOU to decide. But rather than pre-empting research in a negative fashion, let’s welcome and encourage open discussion where data, and research, is valued, rather than undermining it because it doesn’t agree with your point of view. Yes, there are good reasons NOT to grow transgenic crops in NZ, and good reasons to do so. But let’s allow data, with an understanding of how it was generated, to inform the process so we come to solutions that are informed and sensible.
We do no damage to our international reputation by not growing GM crops, but our reputation will truly be damaged if our stand is based on fear and loathing, rather than informed decision making.