The steady progress AgResearch was making on field trials of environment-friendly GM ryegrass in the US served as a "hurry-up" for NZ to get on with a mature national conversation about genetic modification, according to Federated Farmers.

"We're all agreed climate change and our international commitments on greenhouse gas reductions present big challenges to our economy and way of life, but we're currently sidelining a potential major tool that could help farmers tackle ruminant methane and excreted nitrogen," president Katie Milne said.

"It's bordering on ridiculous that our current laws on GM have forced AgResearch to go to the United States to simulate the sort of growing conditions found in New Zealand as they trial the properties of genetically-modified high metabolisable energy (HME) ryegrass."

AgResearch had reported that its experiments in the US were about showing whether the new potentially environmentally-sustainable grass, which struck a balance between reductions in methane emissions from the animals that ate it, greater tolerance to drought, and farm productivity, would perform in the field in a similar way to how it performed in controlled studies.


Initial results, it said, were encouraging.

Last month a panel of experts convened by New Zealand's Royal Society pointed to what it described as some of the considerable benefits genetic technologies could bring, and also the need to debate potential downsides.

"This is just the latest call from scientists and experts for an overhaul of our outdated regulations in this space, lest we fall further behind progress on this in other parts of the world," Ms Milne said.

"Genetic technologies could also be a powerful tool for the kauri dieback calamity and our drive to be predator-free.

"No one is saying we should rush into genetic modification overnight ... but discussion at government level on progressing measured debate and a review of our rules appears to be moving a glacial pace. We need some acceleration."