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01 August 2002

GMOs — it's far from over


The present parliament may well adopt the findings of the Royal Commission into Genetic Modification, with only the Greens dissenting. But come next election, the issue will be back.

The Green Party's views on GMOs are akin to the tenets of a religion. They're not about to abandon their beliefs just because of an official report.

Many politically-attuned New Zealanders share the Greens' mistrust of GM technology and given the right circumstances, they could be persuaded to vote Green.

For Labour and the Alliance, the challenge is to connect with these voters and reassure them that the proposed safeguards are adequate.

Indeed, the big question is who should be doing the connecting? This government is not good at communicating on ‘heart' issues and environment minister Marion Hobbs is a doubtful communicator.

In contrast Green co-leaders Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald connect superbly with voters. They are also resistant to being demonised - the tactic normally used by politicians to discredit minor party opponents.

Several years ago, WHAM was asked by the biotech industry how it might best win public acceptance for GMOs in New Zealand. Our response was that the first GMOs off the rank should have significant benefits for consumers and pose negligible risks for the environment.

The industry, which had put most of its energies into developing pesticide-resistant crops, said this could not be done. Instead, they promoted the economic and scientific benefits of GMOs in meetings up and down the country.

The result: greatly heightened fears among detractors and a sensitised Green movement.

Six million dollars and a Royal Commission report later, WHAM suspects not much has changed.

Still the antis are coming up with stories of ecological collapse; and the pros are promising to feed the world and medicate the sick. Lost in the political middle ground are ordinary New Zealanders looking for practical examples of risk and/or benefit which they can relate to.

The side which finds and communicates the most credible examples will win the day.

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