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New Zealand’s Future is with Genetic Engineering: Productivity Commission

New Zealand may have to embrace Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and the products of genetic engineering in order to best survive the future, experts believe. A groundbreaking report by the New Zealand Productivity Commission detailed it is time for a full regulatory review of genetically modified organisms and technologies (GM). The report says there have been major advances in GM in recent years and gene-editing techniques.

This stance has been affirmed by industry stalwarts. BiotechNZ executive director and former biotech faculty of the University of Auckland, Dr Zahra Champion says ­­New Zealand needs to finally accept genetic modification (GM) products in a world of climate change and desperate global food needs.

They want to talk about New Zealand’s use of GM tech but we need action or we will be left far behind. Future generations will not be interested in staying in Aotearoa if we don’t use cutting edge technologies. We will see more brain drain and New Zealand will miss out on the fourth industrial revolution.

– Dr Zahra Champion, Executive Director, BiotechNZ

Moreover, Champion disclosed that there are many ways New Zealand can use biotech to achieve significant change while reducing any perceived risks still being risk-averse. She expressed frustration New Zealand is not doing more in the biotech world.

In addition, she pointed out that the risk is that biotechnology will be lost in New Zealand, at a time plant-based food and stem cell meat is seeking huge demand. Thus, Aotearoa needs to start looking at changing old regulations so it can use new technologies.

Dr Champion says there have been tremendous advances in GM since the legislation was put in place. Further, she reasoned that GM can grow productivity and the economy, help with biosecurity risks and respond to climate change risks. Gene-editing tech can help with drought tolerance, disease resistance, fruit ripening and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, she says.

Globally, there have been substantial advances in gene editing in agricultural, horticultural, food production and health science technologies. New Zealand has a strong reputation for safe food but at the moment GM technology is confined to research labs. Champion says the regulations are frustrating for some businesses. She noted that some companies are incredible and they could make a bigger difference if they were allowed to use gene editing.

The global biotech market is forecast to be worth US$ 729 billion by 2025. New Zealand is positioned well: ranked fourth in the world for innovation potential in biotech. Currently, no genetically modified products manufactured in New Zealand are commercially available. All use of GM techniques must have approval under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms  Act.

It must be noted that the link between biotechnology and ICT cannot be overemphasised. At the heart of this latest development in biotech are computers and emerging technologies such as the cloud and Artificial Intelligence.

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