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23 May 1997
Allegations of ‘mutant food' and other bizarre reports on plant biotechnology (or plant genetic engineering), have given little attention to the conclusions of a 16-strong volunteer panel made up of members of the public who examined the issue in detail.
The panel, chosen from volunteers from throughout New Zealand, took part in the first Talking Technology Conference on the topic held publicly last year. The
panel's aim was to gain an understanding of plant biotechnology, and as a group assess the risks and benefits associated with it.
The learning process culminated in a three day conference, where questions were answered by experts with different perspectives. At the end of the three days, the panel's conclusions were presented informally to the public and written up. The panel's final report and conference proceedings will be released at a function in Wellington next month, which panellists will attend to talk about their involvement.
The completed report demonstrates New Zealanders capability of making informed judgements on complex technical issues when given the opportunity. In the panel's report was the conclusion that because plant genetic engineering had been on-going for in excess of 20 years, it was now too late to "return the genie to the bottle".
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 while removing undesirable ones. It is an effective way of producing plants free of diseases, but which also raises concerns about plant diversity.
The Talking Technology Charitable Trust will be launched at the function next month. The Trust will hold future Talking Technology Conferences on issues of public importance. Possible topics include food irradiation, cloning animals, the use of viruses to control pest animals and the impact of the Internet on society. Talking Technology Conferences can be used as a gauge of public perception.
The launch is on June 4 in Wellington.
For further information contact:
Dr Peter Kettle, Policy Science Director, MAF, ph: (04) 4744100.
David Russell, Consumers Institute, ph: (04) 3847963.