Police and security guards provided heavy security at this week’s controversial hearing in Christchurch, New Zealand, into Crop and Food Research’s bid to conduct a 10-year field trial of genetically modified vegetables.
GM onions, shallots, leek and garlic are the subject of debate, with supporters claiming they have better flavour, health benefits and pest resistance.
Other GM trials near Christchurch have been the subject of sabotage in the past, and opponents say this latest proposal poses too much risk to the environment and NZ’s reputation.
“There are few public benefits, with risks distributed unfairly,” said lobby group, GE Free New Zealand.
“The risks of creeping damage to NZ’s clean, green natural reputation in food are real. While the cost of any environmental damage would fall on the public, the limited value of the research largely benefits a small group of investor-scientists.”
But Crop and Food said the trial promised major benefits in food production and would keep NZ up with the world on science.
A fifth of the world’s crop market was now developed through genetic modification, said Dr Colin Eady.
While some GM work could be done in the laboratory or glasshouse, it was important to also test the crops out in the open, such as in the field trial proposed.
Federated Farmers raised concerns about the spread of pollen from the flowering GM vegetables to other plants and wildlife, but Dr Eady said the vegetables would be contained in mesh cages to stop even insects getting in. The risk of cross-pollination by wind was “highly improbable”.
The Environmental Risk Management Authority committee will make its decision on whether to allow the trial within 30 working days.