Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Bio-tech giant keen to plant in NZ soil

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Dr Rob Reiter says Monsanto's GM programmes are flourishing and he hopes a time will come when the technologies could be introduced into New Zealand.  Photo / Alan Gibson
Dr Rob Reiter says Monsanto's GM programmes are flourishing and he hopes a time will come when the technologies could be introduced into New Zealand. Photo / Alan Gibson

One of the world's largest and most controversial bio-tech companies is keen to bring its GM crop technology to New Zealand.

But it may be more than a decade before the country has the genetically modified commercial crops to use that technology, said Dr Rob Reiter, biotechnology vice-president of GM giant Monsanto.

A star player at an international conference convening in Rotorua this week, Monsanto has been described by anti-GM groups as the "Darth Vader of biotechnology".

As delegates arrived at the venue on Sunday, protesters joined in chants of "We don't want Monsanto" and waved placards decrying the US-based company.

Dr Reiter told the conference yesterday that GM programmes at Monsanto had boomed over the past decade, and many projects still in testing stages could offer crops better resistance to pests, weeds and drought.

He told the Herald afterwards that while New Zealand was not a large grower of the row crops the company targeted - such as corn, soya beans and wheat - he hoped there would come a time where its technology could be used here.

"We would love to introduce these kind of products wherever growers are that could take advantage of them, but we certainly respect some of the choices and decisions that currently exist in New Zealand today."

After more than a decade, he believed most consumers were "comfortable with the acceptance and consumption" of GM foods.

Kiwi anti-GM groups disagree, arguing it is strong consumer resistance that has kept any GM commercial crops from being grown here.

A spokesperson for Trade Minister Tim Groser said New Zealand had no stance against producing GE foods, which could be grown for the domestic and export markets as long as they met regulations.

"Accordingly, any decision not to produce GM food or crops is primarily a commercial one."

But Graeme Peters, of industry group Agcarm, said it was our strict controls that had straitjacketed the technology, which also remained "a politically difficult area" where no votes could be won.

Mr Peters said there was vast potential in homegrown GM pastures - alongside exported produce such as tomatoes, capsicum and squash - and the loss to New Zealand in not embracing GM had been put at $1.5 billion.

While it was inevitable that GM crops would be grown here eventually, it was also a matter of time before another country developed higher-performing pasture than ours, he said.

"New Zealand hasn't just just missed the bus, the bus left 10 years ago and we are well behind here so we need to catch up.

"We can't stand by while an agricultural revolution is going on all around the world - we've got to get involved somehow."

The Sustainability Council of New Zealand has hit back at the claims.

"Anything to do with $1.5 billion is speculative and based on grasses that either don't exist or won't exist for another 10 years," spokesman Simon Terry said.

"There is no evidence to date there has ... been any opportunities held back where the law was the problem - it appears to have been a lack of support from growers in New Zealand."

- NZ Herald

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