A debate on Genetic engineering (GE) was the final session that closed the “Question it?”  science research week in Queenstown.
The panel of six speakers argued the moot “Genetically modified organisms can be a solution to a sustainable future”. The teams arguing the affirmative – Professor Peter Shepherd, University of Auckland, Dr. William Rolleston, Federated Farmers and Dr. Will Barker, NZBIO and arguing the negative were Dr. Elizabeth Harris, Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility, Claire Bleakley, GE Free NZ and Phillippa Jamieson, Soil and Health. The debate was at times very vocal. The affirmative team, all male, were very dismissive of the “lay” women’s point of view and argued that in their knowledge there had been no major instances of damage to the environment, cross contamination of other people's crops or detrimental effects to human health reported. This was challenged and evidence cited.
An Argentinian report , documenting deleterious health effects in children living near (within 1 km) GE fields sprayed with herbicides, drew a heated response. A member of the audience questioned whether the report was scientific, so the citation was given. The pro GE team then retorted that the Argentinian paper could not considered scientific as the authors got their “pals” to peer review the work so it could be published.
“This reply highlights the problems of science today. The capture of mainstream scientists, who do not read or acknowledge any evidence outside their industry brief, is polluting and denigrating good science,” said Claire Bleakley, President of GE Free NZ. “It was shocking to hear the disparaging remarks about published reports in foreign Journals. It felt like being back in the last century when the tobacco lobbyists influenced regulators to ignore the scientific evidence of harm from cigarettes”.
Whilst it was an excellent debate, the final message left with the audience was “GMOs today cannot be part of a solution for a sustainable future!”
 Question it? Queenstown research week http://www.qmb.org.nz/public-outreach/
 Bernardi N., Gentile B., Manas F., Mendez A, Gorla N. and Aissa M. Assessment of the level of damage to the genetic material of children exposed to pesticides in the province of Córdoba Arch Argent Pediatr 2015;113(2):126-132
Claire Bleakley 06 3089842 / 027 348 6731
Jon Muller 0274794195