This week's Newsmaker is Martin Sharp , who organised last weekend's protest in Rotorua against genetic engineering

Tell us about yourself.

I have lived in Rotorua on and off for about 35 years. I have three fine children who have all left the nest. I have always liked "The Good Life" and been interested in gardening and organics and have a keen interest in the environment in general. I tramp occasionally and mountain bike regularly.

What do you do?

I am currently having a break from work after having effectively been made redundant for the second time in three years. I have been quantity surveying for the last 30 years with some cost accounting and spreadsheet work.

What is your background?

I started out from school as an engineering cadet and gained my New Zealand Certificate in civil and structural engineering and have been involved in the building industry ever since.


Why did you organise the anti-GE protest at the biotechnology conference in Rotorua this week?

I have always kept a wary eye on the genetically engineered trees at Scion. When I heard that the BioTech conference was to be held in Rotorua, I researched the top-10 speakers and found that only one was not involved in GE technology! I was determined that there should be some sort of counter to this, in order to have the other side of this controversial practice heard.

I spread the word to a few associates and the result was a speaking tour of New Zealand by Julie Newman and Bob Mackley, two Australian farmers who had their properties contaminated by GE growing on neighbouring farms. Their message to New Zealand horticulturists and farmers was: "Your nation has a magnificent opportunity to learn from Australia's lack of foresight".

They were unable to come to Rotorua during the Biotech conference, therefore a protest was organised.

What are your main concerns about genetic engineering?

My main concerns with GE are the questionable safety of consuming GE food, increased use of herbicides, the declared intentions of multi-national companies to dominate the food chain and unfair liability regimes that would be imposed on New Zealand tax payers.

Do you agree with Green MP Steffan Browning's members' bill which is in the ballot to impose a 10-year moratorium on genetic engineering in NZ?

The 10-year moratorium will be a master stroke for the broadening of our 100% Pure NZ marketing image. Building on this brand will ensure a market for all New Zealand agricultural products whether conventional or organic. Competing on the international market with other GE crops, we will be just another supplier. With a GE free status we will have a niche that will command better prices and have assured markets as demand for natural produce is growing.

Have you been involved in other protests in NZ against genetic engineering or other issues, and if so what and why?

I have been involved in a number of GE protests over the years. Mostly with the field trials that have been conducted at Scion. The current trial demonstrates my point about ownership of intellectual property (of seeds). The trial is being funded by ArborGen and is investigating herbicide tolerance and reproductive development and not the social benefiting traits that the application for the trial requested, like dimensional stability, wood density, etc

Have you seen any changes made as the result of a protest you have been involved with?

I have been involved with the Fluoride Free Water group which has over the years made presentations to the Rotorua District Council conveying the alternative views to that of the unbending policies of central government via the DHBs that give the consumer no choice in the additives in their water consumption.

Who is your mentor?

A close friend, Stephen Benner, has been an inspiration to me all my life. He has a vision of society with no ills and has worked unswervingly over his lifetime to bring a change to the world. He is a lover of mankind, a humble man who always has put the needs of society before his own. If only we could all be that selfless.

Tell us three things about yourself that most people wouldn't know.

I have recently taken to learning the African drum (djembe) and have had a debut in two public performances so far but definitely not as a solo performer.

I practice transcendental meditation twice a day as a stress-management tool.

I recently enjoyed mentoring a budding stand-up comedian. I wanted to be one when I was young but found that you have to be confident in front of a crowd, quick thinking and witty. Unfortunately for me, one out of three just wasn't good enough.