Clean and Green NZ? Genetic technology and its future in New Zealand’s Pastoral Industry.

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Executive Summary

Pastoral farming is the most dominant and natural land use in New Zealand today and is one of the main contributors to New Zealand’s ‘Clean green’ image. The pastoral industry is under increasing domestic, social, and political pressure to reduce its environmental footprint whilst maintaining New Zealand’s pasture feed products in the market and ensuring prosperous farming communities.

New Zealand’s pastoral industry is not the only one facing these issues but many countries worldwide including Europe, USA, and Australia. Some of these countries however have relieved some of the pressures surrounding environmental footprint of pastoral farming through new genetic technologies being integrated into plant breeding cycles causing lesser reliance on water, herbicides, and insecticides to name a few.

New Zealand pastoral industry is underpinned by plant breeders and the modern ryegrass plant. On average it takes 12-15 years to test, multiply and commercialise a new ryegrass meaning a large breeding programme with multiple scenarios predicted ensures there will be a cultivar for future situations. The purpose of this report is therefore to understand the current plant breeding technologies and compare them to the controversial genetic technologies which have recently become available to New Zealand.

My research details past, current, and future plant breeding methods, from cross and hybrid breeding, chemical and radiation breeding to new breeding technologies such as Genomic selection, Marker-assisted selection, Genetic modification, and Gene editing.

The Genetic technologies available to plant breeders allow multiple forms of enhancement and a ryegrasses ability to withstand, herbicides, insects, and extreme weather events, whilst increasing the rate of genetic gain. Of these technologies available worldwide but not in New Zealand is Genetic editing (GE) or genetic modification (GM). GM has been a controversial topic in New Zealand for over 20 years which has been heavily debated especially around its use in the agricultural industry and the possibility of it single handily able to tarnish our ‘clean green image’.

The methodology used in this report was literature reviews which was used to quantify themes which were gathered through a series of informal interviews from leading industry professionals in New Zealand’s pastoral industry.

The misconception and lack of understanding around past and present technologies associated with ryegrass breeding are significant worldwide. This is linked back to several factors like the growing presence of social media, lack of engagement from the science community around consistent relevant information to the public, but also higher up, in governments and regulatory paperwork worldwide. From the Cartagena Protocol to the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), each country has their own stance and even definition of what GMO or GE stands for.

Ethical and social considerations were one of the most prominent themes to come out of my research. The lack of monetary value on morals and cultural beliefs makes genetic technologies statistically hard to quantify its effects. Excluding such values has led to a lack of trust in both scientists and politicians. However, the true misconception lies around indigenous cultural values which underpins New Zealand. Literature suggests Māori are not against biotechnology but were more concerned about how it affected whakapapa (genealogy), mana, mauri (life essence), and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and what forms of biotechnology could be a positive addition to their communities not to just those who can afford it.

Therefore, the recommendations from the research undertaken are:

Collaboration of industry bodies within the pastoral sector to:
– re define the pathway of the pastoral sector and how it could look with and without new biotechnologies such a Genetic editing or Genetic modification. The stance of the collaborative response will be communicated to the wider industry followed by consultation then to the wider public.
– re define what ‘clean green’ image means to New Zealand. How do we link our cultural aspirations with the reality of economics in the pastoral sector? ‘
Commitment to Engage with New Zealanders about genetic technologies through the re-establishment of a bioethics committee. The non-political committee will have a multitude of respected and knowledgeable professionals from agricultural, biotech, science, communication, environment as well as social and cultural organisations.
This groups main responsibility will be to engage with their wider communities about their opinions, thoughts, and concerns. This will be at the forefront of the committee’s priorities.
Approving specific acronyms and definitions for the biotechnology sector worldwide. Scientists use many technical and non-technical acronyms throughout their work however the use of these outside of the industry is contributing to the fragmentation of trust in science. An approved list of acronyms with their responding definitions to be implemented under a protocol such as the Cartagena protocol to ensure correct depiction and understanding of biotechnologies by the public.
The approved language is then to be enforced by individual governments across industries to ensure miscommunication is minimised.
Regulating a technology not by the final product or outcome. Define the technologies by assessing the risk the outcome or product has to the pastoral industry across all areas.

Read the full report:

Reith, Rebecca_Clean Green NZ – Gene technologies future in New Zealands pastoral industry

Rebecca Reith Kellogg Course 42, 2021

Our programmes work in partnership with some of New Zealand’s leading agribusiness organisations – click here for more.​