1 Jan 2015

Redefining Genetically Modified Organisms in New Zealand

From Our Changing World, 9:48 pm on 1 January 2015

Michelle Walsh, a Science Communication student at the University of Otago, investigates a recent squabble between two 'biosecurity guardians' of New Zealand, regarding the use of new techniques in genetic modification. This panel-style audio documentary draws on perspectives from scientific research communities and those more directly involved with science-related policy. Michelle talks with Elspeth Macrae, General Manager of Manufacturing and Bioproducts at Scion, Simon Terry, Executive Director of the Sustainability Council of New Zealand and the University of Otago's Peter Dearden, Director of Genetics Otago. A note about the production of this podcast: the interviewees were recorded separately, and did not have the right of reply to other people's remarks.

Given these perspectives, the podcast asks listeners to perform their own cost-benefit analysis for various forms of genetic modification, and to consider what factors influence their analysis of this controversial topic. Furthermore, the investigation asks listeners to empathise; to compare the factors they prioritise in a cost-benefit analysis of genetic modification, with the factorsothers may prioritise in a similar evaluation. Can a compromise be struck whereby a new definition for genetically modified organisms accounts for varying degrees of 'cost' and 'benefit' for all New Zealanders?

The Science Media Centre outlined the debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like this: 'Crown Research Institute Scion and the Sustainability Council of New Zealand came to loggerheads in May over the definition of genetic modification, taking it all the way to the High Court. At the heart of the controversy was Scion’s plan to develop pine tree strains using new molecular techniques that alter the genetic code of an organism without incorporating foreign genetic material into the genome of the cell. The High Court ruled that the pine trees created would be genetically modified, but noted the current definition was “not well drafted.”'