Biotechnology Conference Report Published

29 August 1996

Plant genetic engineering has been about for more than 20 years and it’s now too late to ‘return the genie to the bottle,’ even if it is impossible for scientists to guarantee that genetically modified plants will not adversely effect the environment.

This is one of the conclusions of the 16-strong volunteer panel of members of the public which completed the first Talking Technology Conference outside of Europe in Wellington on the weekend (August 22-24). The topic was plant biotechnology (plant genetic engineering).

The report went on to say: “Just as benefits may be far-reaching, so too may the potential for catastrophe, should things go wrong. Although scientists seem confident that their procedures are reliable and the final product safe, they cannot give any guarantees. Naturally this inability to give guarantees is of concern to us.”

Plant biotechnology is an important issue for New Zealand because of our reliance on agriculture and horticulture for trade. Genetic engineering can enhance plant performance by adding new traits and removing undesirable ones. It is an effective way of producing plants free of diseases, but which raises concerns about plant diversity. Although some plant varieties may no longer seem important, it is difficult to predict future demands.

The panel was a cross-section of New Zealand society, and were chosen from a pool of 235 applicants. Their aim was to gain an understanding of plant biotechnology and assess the risks and benefits associated with it. They did this over a two month period, which culminated in the three day conference, where the panel’s questions were answered by experts.

The questions included who owns plants and who owns genes, how reliable assurances about the benefits of plant biotechnology are, educating the public on current and future areas of research, the environmental effects of genetically modified plants and its repercussions on plant biodiversity.

At the end of the three day conference, the panel’s conclusions were presented to the public.

Other conclusions reached by the panel were:

  • Plant biotechnology is a reality and it is better that it is conducted in an open environment and subject to public scrutiny;
  • New Zealand should maintain its current conservative approach to biotechnology, but observe developments overseas and adapt these to New Zealand;
  • The panel does not believe biotechnology alone will solve world hunger, as many third world countries lack the adequate infrastructure, and in some cases, the political stability, to reap the benefits of the technology.

The panel summed up by saying that assurances given about plant biotechnology benefits fell short of the ideal.

A full report written by the panel is available.

Listed below are the 16 volunteers. Feel free to contact them for further comment on their experience, particularly one from your area. For contact numbers, further information and a copy of the report contact: Rachel Perrett, Talking Technology manager, ph: (04) 4744100 ext:8501 /fax: (04) 4744163.

The Panel:

Rebecca Ansell, a technical writer from Wellington
Barbara Branch, business woman, Lower Hutt
Peter Dawson, invalid beneficiary, Invercargill
Anne Grech, caterer, Normanby
Janet Greenwood, university student, Dunedin
Maree Lyftogt, pharmaceutical rep, Christchurch
Helen MacKenzie, nurse, Devonport.
Adele McNeill, student, Greymouth
Geoff Mead, retired market gardener, Bluff
John Oakden, farmer, Te Kauwhata
Alison Robinson, historical writer, Stratford
Jack Ross, builder, Nelson
Moira Scammell, mother and teacher, Napier
Ian Shields, tenancy manager, Whitby
Jonathan Stace, events coordinator, Christchurch
Stephen Wheeler, computer engineer, Auckland



Last Updated: 08 September 2010

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