Comment: New Zealand society needs to have a grown up conversation about genetic modification and irrigation if we're to tackle climate change, writes Andrew McGiven, President Federated Farmers Waikato.

With the Government now looking to bring some contentious legislation in around climate change and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), it is time for us as a society to finally sit down and have some grown-up conversations about how we can best address this.

With agriculture now looking down the barrel of a GHG levy, it would be great for the scientists and policy makers to decide how best to have these types of policies implementable without destroying the social or economic frameworks of our rural communities.

Something that has been clearly missing from the debate is the range of alternative actions that farmers, among others, could use to remain viable both in an environmentally friendly manner as well as an economic one.


Something that should be better discussed and debated is the use of gene editing (GE) or genetic modification (GM).

This has been a taboo subject for the green lobby groups, yet most of the soy products that are imported and sold here in New Zealand are genetically modified.

Why then, if there is already a GE ryegrass available overseas that can reduce animal methane emissions by up to 30 per cent, are New Zealand farmers unable to access this technology?

Read more from Federated Farmers here.

What is the worst scenario for our economy: climate change or gene editing?

Surely the paranoia that used to exist around "Frankenstein" foods has dissipated over the years.

Most synthetic meats have their genesis from a blood cell from a dead foetal calf. How Frankenstein-like is that? It is their little dirty secret. An ingredient in Impossible Foods' much-hailed veggie burger is GE soy.

Under proposed Zero Carbon policy, at the upper suggested limit agriculture would have to decrease production by around 45-50 per cent by 2050 if no mitigation or offsetting is allowed.


Agriculture is responsible for around 40 per cent of New Zealand's GDP.

It is hypocritical to allow the importation of GE products like soy for the vegan lattes and continue to drive our own highly efficient agriculture overseas in what is effectively an emissions leakage policy. This can only be bad for our planet.

GE could also be highly beneficial and effective in allowing New Zealand to try and meet its predator free status by 2050.

With the increased public scrutiny around 1080 usage, this could be the best option in stopping the opossum and rat plague that decimates our native bird life.

But why stop there? We also need to grow up and have the important conversation about water storage and irrigation.

Presently we let around 97 per cent of our fresh water run out to the oceans, in an age when countries are now starting to consider war over water resources.

If we are looking towards more drought-like conditions over the next 30-50 years, then this should be an essential conversation.

It is extremely pertinent, with many urban centres' water reservoirs only at 50-60 per cent capacity in the middle of what should be the wet season.

How will we power all our electric vehicles if the southern dams are empty?

And a heads up to all the vegans and vegetarians, plants need water to grow and this is where the irrigation argument kicks in.

Irrigation allows the farmer(s) to control the amount of moisture within the soil profile, especially in the dry spells.

What happens when soils have been dry for too long and then receive a dollop of rainfall is a flushing effect that can spike the nutrient load within our groundwater and waterways.

Irrigation allows the nutrients to be better utilised within the root zone and minimise runoff, and this is a good thing for both the farmer and the environment.

Yet current policy, and indeed public opinion if social media is anything to go by, shows a complete lack of investigation and knowledge around some of these matters and just highlights how ignorant some of our population and policymakers are.

What I think the current policies will do is simply increase the weekly food bill of ordinary Kiwis for no other reason than to appease some bureaucrats who would like to think that they are saving the world.

But until we can put all the cards on the table and be able to make an informed decision around some of these new technologies, New Zealand will the poorer for it and this lack of leadership will echo for at least another generation.