By Hunter Calder

The Canterbury Horticulture Society Winter Speaker Series was so successful they are looking to repeat it next year.

Board remember Ray King said the inaugural series had been great and there had been several interesting topics over four months.

Ecologists Professor Dave Kelly and Dr Colin Meurk, landscape architect Di Lucas and geneticist Professor Paula Jameson   all gave presentations.

The final lecture from Professor Jameson challenged society members to think about genetic modification’s place in New Zealand.

She introduced several types of genetic modification including genetic engineering.

She said while some people argued that Genetic Engineering (GE) was tinkering with the natural there were positive things about the process.

Medicines were one of the positive sides of genetic engineering and New Zealand was one of the first countries using insulin and growth hormones produced by genetically engineered microbes.

Prof Jameson said New Zealand did not commercially grow any genetically engineered crops.

“Genetic engineering tools are so powerful.  You can use it for good and you can use it for bad.”

But, she said, while there was a lot of legislation targeted at transgenic crops there was none for crops produced through mutation breeding.

New Zealand was still marketing to niche markets who did not want genetically engineered produce.

Genetic engineering for New Zealand food had been made challenging because of the cost of field trials. Jameson said it was expensive to do these and so a lot of IP had gone off-shore to bigger companies.

Internationally there are four main genetically engineered crops including soybeans, maize, cotton and rapeseed.

“Ninety-five percent of cotton in Australia is genetically engineered to be resistant to certain types of insects.”

Genetic modification allowed crops and plants to gain resistance against diseases and could reduce spoilage or enhance their visual appearance and taste.

Plant mutation at an international scale (a form of genetic modification)  had created more than 3000 varieties in 170 different species.

There are a number of methods of genetic modification, as distinct from genetic engineering.  She said plant hybridisation had existed for a long time but there was a downside in this process of genetic modification as the seed could not be saved for the following year.

New Zealand only had legislation for genetic engineering, this was the only way to artificially genetically modify plants.

read Hunter’s previous article, Di Lucas questions draft residential chapter Recovery Plan ‘ A Liveable City’