Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Clover It

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  • Matthew Poole,

    Many of my misgivings about the Greens relate to their policies on GM. Even pulling up trial crops is apparently an acceptable course of action to the likes of Fitzsimons: not condemning is to lend tacit approval. Now, true to that form, they cannot bring themselves to consider the possibility that GM can bring about outcomes that benefit the environment, animals, and the national economy.

    That this is being done by, effectively, selective breeding, and still the Greens cannot get beyond their traditional, knee-jerk reaction, speaks volumes about their true dedication to environmental improvement. If Norman's argument was based on the unsustainable nature of our agriculture industry (waterway pollution, pasture destruction, etc), and he opposed this development as being a false prophet of agricultural sustainability, that would be understandable. Instead he rambles and waffles and obfuscates in a manner worthy of Rodney Hide being asked who's going to benefit financially from the Megatropolis developments.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Stevens,

    If this works, and we won't know for 15 years I htink they said last night, it's fantastic, and the Greens should embrace it.

    Science and technology are not inherently evil, but that seems to be their view.Along with an embrace of quackery, sorry, i mean 'alternative' medicine.

    The Greens are still too anti-science for me to support. I quite like them, I have friends there, but I won't vote for them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 230 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    Agree, agree
    The Green's response was worse than weak. Apparently we would just be tinkering with methane release with a 15-year lead out time
    Given that anything NZ does will be just tinkering with human climate change where is the problem with that, at least we are doing something concrete and useful for agriculture worldwide

    I do hope that the Green’s practise what they preach, walk everywhere and live in carbon friendly sustainable homes

    And wasn’t nice that TV3 lead with this possible break through rather than poor old Chris Carter and his running

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 576 posts Report Reply

  • Samuel Scott,

    I appreciate the need for GM to be judged on a case by case basis and for arguments against it to be made in a sensible manner. However, it is hardly surprising that the Green party has a blanket response to anything GE.

    If we all ate a bit less meat and if every farm in the world (no matter how huge) embraced some of the ideals of poly-organic farming (or whatever you want to call it) then we wouldn't need GE solutions.

    OK, so maybe I sound like nutter as well now. Maybe there is simply too much demand for cheap, shitty, cruel meat and dairy. Maybe we need to look at every available option science offers to make farming cleaner.
    But the Green party does have an obligation to push for genuine alternatives. I don't care if that makes them as crazy as the far right, because its a crazy that however un-realistic would be lovely.

    South Wellington • Since Feb 2008 • 315 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Seem to me like AgResearch shoehorned the 'GE' into the headline of the PR. The openness is good from everyone's point of view, but I'm toying with the idea they also know they have a lever.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • rimu,

    If the grass provides more nutrients, it will enable the farmer to increase his stocking rate, so the amount of emissions will stay the same, or increase.

    This talk of GE grass is classic greenwash

    Since Jun 2010 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Samuel Scott,

    Along with an embrace of quackery, sorry, i mean 'alternative' medicine.

    What is the context for a claim like that? What medicines? Homeopathy? Osteopathy? Acupuncture?

    South Wellington • Since Feb 2008 • 315 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    If the grass provides more nutrients, it will enable the farmer to increase his stocking rate, so the amount of emissions will stay the same, or increase.

    No, it wouldn't.

    But what if a strain was developed that offered similar benefits but did not require a GM method? Would you still oppose an innovation that improved animal welfare and radically cut greenhouse gas emissions?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    If the grass provides more nutrients, it will enable the farmer to increase his stocking rate, so the amount of emissions will stay the same, or increase.

    If the figures that Russell has included are true, that's not accurate. Or even if it does, more product for the same amount of emissions ain't exactly a disasterous outcome.

    What will increase if they can put more cattle on a bit of land is water demands, effluent etc. That would be serious, we're not exactly doing a good job of that in NZ at present.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    This is an odd question, but how much are cows supposed to fart? Are they currently farting more than they should due to modern farming practice or is just the sheer number of cows causing the issue?

    My point, I suppose, is: is there an easier solution than creating a new species of clover? (something that doesn't bother me by the way)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2090 posts Report Reply

  • Richard C,

    and radically cut greenhouse gas emissions?

    Russell, have you seen a suggested figure for this cut? I couldn't see one in the press release, but TV3 seemed to be suggesting a 10-15% reduction last night.

    Might have that confused with the time it will take to fully develop it though, so apologies if I'm talking out of my hat...

    Waiheke Island • Since Oct 2007 • 27 posts Report Reply

  • Kiwiiano,

    I can understand some reticence by the Greens until they have the opportunity to study the new developments carefully. The ramifications of Monsanto's machinations have damaged GE's reputation badly.

    To some anti-GE is a religion, but we have no problems dealing with the expectations of Israeli importers that shipments of kosher beef patties should NOT have 'less than 1% pork content' or the requirement by Saudi importers that we are forbidden to even store products destined for Israel in the same freezers as their Halal purchases. Or even the demands from German inspectors that our meat is processed on stainless steel even though countless bacterial counts demonstrate that using pine wood surfaces is safer due to inherent antibacterial qualities of pine, plus it's kinder to the cutting implements.

    ChCh • Since Nov 2006 • 46 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    This is an odd question, but how much are cows supposed to fart?

    Burp. The basic underlying problem is the hideous inefficiency of grass/clover/green feed as a food. Cows have to ferment it in their stomachs to be able to digest it, and that process produces methane as a by-product. (Yes, I typed 'bi-product' the first time.)

    We don't use 'modern farming practices' here like they do in the States, we still have this ridiculous sentimental attachment to keeping animals outside.

    But yes. I do not understand the fundamental opposition to this kind of GE - which is no different in the end result from traditional cross-breeding or grafting. I vote Green and this drives me batfuck.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Samuel Scott,

    Are they currently farting more than they should due to modern farming practice or is just the sheer number of cows causing the issue?

    I think there are supposed to be quite direct correlations between what cattle graze on and their general stomach health. Supposedly frequent stock rotation and a variety of grasses is good.

    South Wellington • Since Feb 2008 • 315 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Russell, have you seen a suggested figure for this cut? I couldn't see one in the press release, but TV3 seemed to be suggesting a 10-15% reduction last night.

    You're right, that's the figure they gave. But we're talking about such a big chunk of NZ's greenhouse emissions that it's very significant.

    But my question was -- if this was achieved without a GM method, but with similar benefits, would you then support it? Then we're down to considering the actual risk of one method over another.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    What will increase if they can put more cattle on a bit of land is water demands, effluent etc. That would be serious, we're not exactly doing a good job of that in NZ at present.

    The way I read it, it was that it would allow additional yield of milk and meat from the same stock of animals, but I'm happy to be corrected on that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    or is just the sheer number of cows causing the issue?

    Pretty much. That and the fact that methane is a more-damaging greenhouse gas than CO2. Since methane is the primary component of bovine (and all ruminant animals, no?) flatulence, more cows equals more farting equals more methane equals more damage.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    The way I read it, it was that it would allow additional yield of milk and meat from the same stock of animals, but I'm happy to be corrected on that.

    Yes, I recall similar things from the last time this development was mentioned, but you can be quite sure that NZ farmers will take it as a licence to increase stock numbers if at all possible: more stock producing more meat/milk equals more money.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    IANAS, so take it with agrain of salt if you like, but I think we need to remain wary of GM.

    For starters, we can not put the genie back in the bottle if it goes wrong. Secondly, we do not know the ramifications of any instance of genetic modification, but we can be fairly sure that the evolutionary drive will adapt (sometimes in unforseeable ways) to any adaption that we may make.

    Couple this with the fact that many of those pushing forward in this area have enormous financial incentives for doing so (and therefore disincentives for caution) and you have, IMO, the conditions for the possibility of undue haste.

    The US is at the forefront of GM, and I predict serious problems for them in the not-too-distant future.

    Hardy superweeds immune to Monsanto's genetically modified herbicide system is prompting farmers to use greater amounts of even harsher chemicals. Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" crop, whereby GM seeds unaffected by an accompanying herbicide, make up for 90 percent of the soybean and 80 percent of the corn grown in the US. The rise of Roundup more than a decade ago eclipsed herbicides of other agrochemical companies, but now the invasion of evolved superweeds is sparking a bioengineering race to enable more powerful chemicals - a trend that can only lead to a more precarious food system.

    That said, if the Greens are right to promote caution, then they should be able to have the science to back it up.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    I do not understand the fundamental opposition to this kind of GE - which is no different in the end result from traditional cross-breeding or grafting. I vote Green and this drives me batfuck.

    Pretty much how I feel too. (Disclosure, I have voted Green recently but am now once more a Labour party member).

    The Greens have some fantastic evidence-based policy, and have impressed me with their commitment to logical rigour on social issues. Their hippy blind spots on science and health drive me nuts. All that credibility on AGW leaks away when things like this come up. They love evidence, except when they don't.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    For starters, we can not put the genie back in the bottle if it goes wrong. Secondly, we do not know the ramifications of any instance of genetic modification, but we can be fairly sure that the evolutionary drive will adapt (sometimes in unforseeable ways) to any adaption that we may make.

    But we might say the same of Braeburn apples -- a chance mutation that appeared in Nelson in 1952 and has been spread far and wide since.

    And more so of the various wheat varieties in which scientists have been inducing mutations (in the hope that they'll be beneficial) since the early 1960s. The mutations are generated through the application of radiation or toxic chemicals.

    We've been growing and eating those novel varieties for a long time. And in that context, the more measured and precise process under discussion here doesn't look nearly as scary.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    All that credibility on AGW leaks away when things like this come up. They love evidence, except when they don't.

    More batfuckery here. Their appeal to doubt, and selective use of evidence in the service of their favoured issues, is exactly what those who attack climate science do.

    onsanto's "Roundup Ready" crop, whereby GM seeds unaffected by an accompanying herbicide, make up for 90 percent of the soybean and 80 percent of the corn grown in the US. The rise of Roundup more than a decade ago eclipsed herbicides of other agrochemical companies...

    And this is where almost the _entire_ anti-GE movement has its genesis. One of the worlds largest chemical companies, involved in seriously nasty pesticides, decided to develop GE crops that would suit their purposes. For most of the 1990s and early 2000s they were far and away the leaders in commercial application of GE. They still dominate. And thus, the anti-toxics movement (which I have great respect for, when it is respectful of evidence - both clinical and epidemiological) took on GE with great force, and the environmental movement took it as an intrinsically harmful technology.

    We're still left with that stunted position over a decade later.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Jimmy Southgate,

    We don't use 'modern farming practices' here like they do in the States, we still have this ridiculous sentimental attachment to keeping animals outside.

    Are you being facetious? I think it is neither rediculous nor sentimental that we keep animals outside.

    As for 'modern farming practices' i'm pretty happy eating grass-feed beef having watched Food Inc. If we can either cut methane or increase production without increasing methane i'm in favour of it - both sound like good ideas to me.

    Though i'd agree with whoever it was above that introduced the caveat about our waterways.

    Wellingtown • Since Nov 2006 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Are you being facetious?

    Yes, I am being facetious. Sorry, I know it's hard to tell. Usually I tell people that they can tell when I'm being facetious because my fingers are typing.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    More batfuckery here. Their appeal to doubt, and selective use of evidence in the service of their favoured issues, is exactly what those who attack climate science do.

    I learned a lot by tracking down common claims about GM in the 90s -- they would come around again and again, even if they'd been debunked. You see exactly the same thing, if generally from different people, with climate science.

    And you can't reasonably argue via the authority of the leading science academies on climate change, and ignore that same authority on GM.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

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