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David Shearer applauds ‘game-changing thinking’ – time to loosen up on GM?

Here at Idealog HQ we talk a lot about innovation, NZ Inc and big ideas about the way forward. We don’t purport to have any answers but we like to ask a lot of questions.

So when the Riddet report, ‘A Call to Arms’ came out recently, we couldn’t help but marvel at the big aspirations that were seemingly backed up by (for once) at least a couple of solid strategies for achieving the hairy goals.

Stuff like establishing an agri-food board within the next couple of years in order to treble the value of exports by the agri-food sector by 2025, and developing and owning an NZ Inc brand strategy.

It’s truly aspirational stuff for a vital part of our economy, and hardly a wonder that the politicians have been all over it like mud on a pig.

Today Labour leader David Shearer applauded the report in a speech to Pipfruit, saying that achieving the goals set out would take “game-changing thinking”.

A careful reading of the report makes you wonder just how much of the game will be changing. It’s 10 years since Labour's Corngate, so perhaps the game has already changed.

The report cites a 2011 food and farming report from the UK, The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and Choices for Global Sustainability, which states that “new technologies (such as the genetic modification of living organisms and the use of cloned livestock and nanotechnology) should not be excluded a priori on ethical or moral grounds, though there is a need to respect the views of people who take a contrary view”.

As one of its ‘actions’ under ‘Enabler 4’ (increased amount and effectiveness of investment in innovation research, development and extension supporting the agri-food industry), it recommends we “continue to review the national position on genetic modification”. (However, it fails to stipulate exactly which part of the national position should be reviewed.)

Under ‘Strategy 1’ (to profitably increase the quantity and sales of the current range of agri-food products), it recommends “improved on-farm efficiencies driven off genetic gain of productive species […]”.

Shearer today held up the Riddet report and its findings – presumably, GM loosening and all.

“We have to start seeing our future collaboratively, looking at what we do through the lens of ‘NZ Inc’, looking at new ideas to get where we want to be in 10 or 20 years, instead of fighting over the stale debates of the past,” he said.

Is GM now one of those stale debates?

“The old ways of doing things haven’t been keeping up with the world, and as it gets even more competitive the old ways will work even less well.”

Similarly, Green co-leader Russel Norman has also applauded the report, saying he would welcome more emphasis on organics as a sector that’s led in sustainable agriculture.

However, he said: “Genetically modified pastures and foods do not feature in a clean green 100% Pure Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Perhaps the best voice of reason in the moving-us-forward, NZ Inc debate comes from Plant & Food Research (its policy on GM is spelled out here).

Productivity is the name of the game right now, for better or for worse.

GM might be able to become a political football once more.