Tuesday, June 06, 2006

New Zealand Project on the "Costs" of GM

A $4.6 million research project, funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, has just been announced in New Zealand, examining the environmental impact of new agricultural biotechnologies. According to a report in the New Zealand Herald, the project is responding to a "major knowledge gap" in New Zealand on the impact of GM plants and the like.

The project is proposed to run over 4 years and will benefit from the collaboration of AgResearch, HortResearch and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research. The research will work to mitigate the potential "costs" (financial, environmental, and otherwise) that might be associated with the release of GM plants and other new biotechnologies into the environment before obtaining adequate preparation and information on safety.

But in particular, the research is concerned with the costs of getting new products to market. According to the project head, Travis Glare (AgResearch), it is particularly expensive in New Zealand to get new products through to practical application: "So what we're trying to do is put some tools around that will make the process cheaper in coming up with answers."

Importantly, the project will produce significant outputs to be incorporated into a computer-based network, including a database on pasture and forest-based organisms that might be at risk. The studies will include microscopic ecosystems of microorganisms and invertebrates. According to Glare, the computer system will then allow modelling of potential impacts on the environment to facilitate the processes of applications for GE field trials and to provide information to community groups.

Public concern over GM remains strong in New Zealand, and groups such as GE Free NZ continue to campaign the technologies. At the Brazil meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP8) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, New Zealand fully supported a consensus agreement on genetic use restriction technologies (GURTS), otherwise commonly known as terminator technology. However, others have criticised the government's public face on GM as disingenuous in the light of offical denial of the existence of the CBD de facto moratorium, in place since 2000 but under fire according to civil society reports.

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