PO Box 13402
Wellington, New Zealand

GE-Free New Zealand

in food and environment (RAGE Inc.)


AgResearch's GE Clover a Costly Risk ignoring Practical Action on Methane


The many years of AgResearch white clover genetically engineered white clover, tolerant to glyphosate, with condensed tannins (CT) for methane reduction, is delivering poor results when compared to existing traditionally bred mixed leys.

The results are a wake-up call for industry to adopt existing proven solutions to methane reduction.

The AgResearch white clover cultivar was genetically engineered with a gene from the hares foot trefoil (trifolium arvense) legume. The gene is expressed using the cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter making it able to withstand glyphosate based herbicide applications, and transferred into the plant by a crown gall tumour bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens vector. [1]

With extensive experimental development and cost to cultivate, the intended public-interest benefits in reducing methane are poorer than the known benefits of mixed forage.

"The message for government scientists at AgResearch, Fonterra, Beef & Lamb and industry players is to stop ignoring tangible actions on methane reduction we can do now, in the hope of discovering future technical fixes," said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-Free NZ.

Woodward et al: (2002) published research showing the mixed legume and grass pastures reduced methane levels significantly and increased milk yield." [2] Roque et al (2021) found the seaweed supplementation reduced methane emissions over 80%. [3]

The move to feeding animals a monoculture of rye grass has led to the increase in methane production. It is time to reposition our agricultural expertise with knowledge that can be adopted today. In practical terms that means mixed leys and regenerative organic principles, which do not require GE plants or pesticides, and which supports the development of Brand New Zealand towards sustainable production.

The GE clover also showed an impact on yield, which was lower than its conventional parent. The different soil types further exacerbate this. Ballhorn (2014) study on soil salinity and white clover posited that the enzymes in ruminant digestion could release the accumulated cyanide leading to the livestock becoming malnourished or intoxicated. [4]

The use of glyphosate based herbicides leads to degradation of soil, chelation of vital minerals, loss of beneficial microbes and increase of pathogenic organisms. [5]

“The genetic engineering of glyphosate tolerance into the GE clover contradicts the global move to reduce pollution and toxins in nature,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ.

"It is concerning that AgResearch is pursuing GE solutions when the benefits to the environment and animals from traditionally bred cultivars of mixed legume and grass pasture plants already exist."

The Government must start promoting existing proven solutions that do not use GE or pesticides to reduce agricultural emissions.

[1] Roldan, M., Cousins, G., Muetzel, S., Zeller, W., Fraser, K., & Salminen, J. et al. (2022). Condensed Tannins in White Clover (Trifolium repens) Foliar Tissues Expressing the Transcription Factor TaMYB14-1 Bind to Forage Protein and Reduce Ammonia and Methane Emissions in vitro. Frontiers In Plant Science, 12. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2021.777354
[2] Woodward, S. L. ; Waghorn, G. C. ; Lassey, K. R. ; Laboyre, P., 2002. Does feeding sulla (Hedysarum coronarium) reduce methane emissions from dairy cows?. Proc. New Zeal. Soc. Anim. Prod., 62: 227–230
[3] Roque BM, Venegas M, Kinley RD, de Nys R, Duarte TL, Yang X, et al. (2021) Red seaweed (Asparagopsis taxiformis) supplementation reduces enteric methane by over 80 percent in beef steers. PLoS ONE 16(3): e0247820. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0247820
[4] Ballhorn, D. J., & Elias, J. D. (2014). Salinity-mediated cyanogenesis in white clover (Trifolium repens) affects trophic interactions. Annals of botany, 114(2), 357–366. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcu141
[5] https://www.soilassociation.org/media/7202/glyphosate-and-soil-health-full-report.pdf
Jon Carapiet - spokesman 0210507681
Claire Bleakley - president 027 348 6731/06 3089842

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