Federated Farmers are being challenged over their backing for the release of genetically engineered ryegrass and their call to loosen environmental regulation.
Federated Farmers, president Katie Milne  said New Zealand must hurry up and review regulations for GE organisms, citing that AgResearch was “forced” to go overseas to conduct their GE ryegrass trials. The comments come at a time when biotechnology interests have been campaigning for deregulation and for exempting products created using gene editing like CRISPR (Cas9).
“Federated Farmers comment is deceptive as either, AgResearch did not want to meet the requirements of NZ legislation or their private partners and funders were able to conduct the trials more easily in the US” said Claire Bleakley.
Federated Farmers' support for speedy changes based on the computer modeling expectations of GE ryegrass is a serious mistake  that goes against the interests of their member farmers, exporters, and the wider community and are diverting vital funding for development of existing forage crops with proven benefits.
Results of the 3 year, $25 million trials have not been released, so there is no evidence that the US trials outcomes have been as good as forecast or that GE ryegrass is able to perform as well as existing rye grass. Also, there is no evidence that genetically modified grass is safe for the environment or for animals to eat.
Most importantly, the results of field trials in the US must be compared with the success of Dairy NZ's research with feeding dairy cows mixed forage, which reduced methane emissions and maintained production as well as animal health.
"It is wrong to try and justify abandoning New Zealand legislation because the GE applicants cannot meet the legislative requirements." said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-Free NZ (in food and environment).
"It is also negligent to not inform members of Federated Farmer of existing ways, such as mixed forage, to reduce methane and improve sustainability. Federated Farmers are jumping the gun by arguing for a change in the law without any research evidence to support their claims for GE ryegrass. Commercial secrecy is not an acceptable excuse to avoid scrutiny."
Dairy NZ's mixed forage approach is a method that increases diversity and resilience in the system. Rather than another monoculture promoted as some magic bullet for poor farm practices, Federated Farmers should look at the bigger picture and advise members of the growing demand for ethical, sustainable, and non-GMO food, including in the US.
"Federated Farmers are missing the bigger picture that is centered on the farmer and customer in our export markets," says Jon Carapiet. "There is a global shift in discerning consumer markets. The demand is for ethically produced, safe food that is an authentic part for addressing a systems-approach to climate change."
We have a growing market for premium products that lift dairy from its commodity status. Companies like Zespri have an innovation pipeline that is future proofing the sector with GE-free products.
Export markets still trust New Zealand food products as safe, natural, and GE-free. Federated Farmers should support our quality reputation. Their own members should be calling them out on their misguided push for GE ryegrass.
Jon Carapiet - National spokesman 0210507681
Claire Bleakley - President 027 348 6731