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This story also appears at www.pastureharmonies.org

If you stand for nothing; does that mean anything is acceptable….or not?

This is the dilemma for NZ Inc agriculture as AgResearch announces the recent success of ‘Daisy’ a cow genetically modified to produce milk with much less beta-lactoglobulin (BLG). This is a milk whey protein known to be allergenic to some people. See the NZ Herald version of the story here.

I’m not commenting on the clever science behind GM Daisy – essentially using two microRNAs and RNA interference to knock down the expression of BLG. AgResearch next want to normally breed from Daisy and see if the same non-BLG milk is produced by her daughters – a several year exercise.

At its core, Daisy is a world first, and it really is (in my opinion) excellent applied science in creating her.

What’s of greater issue; especially given the pro/anti GM stirrings that resulted from AgResearch’s announcement, is the lack of ability ‘we’, as NZ Inc agriculture, have to figure out where Daisy and her ilk could or should fit in our offer to the world.

This is because we don’t own our story.

We don’t own our story because we’ve never named it – that is, we’ve never given a title to the rotational grazing technologies and grazing in situ we perfected over the past 100 years.

It means that we have no strategic big picture notion of what we ‘offer’ the world.

In ‘standing for nothing’ we do ourselves a huge disservice.

Is it no wonder that young people, the very lifeblood for agriculture’s next generation, are turned off. It is such a shapeless industry, who can blame them for avoiding education in it in droves.

It is no wonder that urban NZ only sees and hears grizzling cockies, polluting producers and sellers flogging commodities.

It is no wonder that tourists to New Zealand (or the vast majority of Kiwis for that matter) never appreciate the complex science behind what they see out their bus window.

Which may seem a long way from a debate about a genetically modified cow on an experimental farm?

But it is the other side of our unnamed story.

NZ Inc has the opportunity to name/brand our country’s core comparative advantage – and in doing so become the global custodians of responsible pastoralism.

The moment we do, is when we’d provide ourselves with the ability to debate Daisy, determine if such genetically tweaked beasts can fit into what we proffer to the world.

Non-BLG milk could indeed be part of a suite of ‘clever’ biologically-derived products that we produce.

But, getting back to the opening sentence – by standing for nothing, we can only have a nothing sort of debate.