GM-free market boost for region

Hawke’s Bay Today, March 23 2016

John Bostock

Just last week, two of the US’s best known food companies, General Mills and Mars, announced they will label all products containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

The companies’ move confirms the huge growth in North American consumer awareness and market demand for GM labeling – a global trend that will ultimately leave no place to hide for GMOs.

More importantly, the non-GM food economy is booming in the US: in two years, launches of GM Free products there have grown at a rate of 262% – around 2000 a year. Hawke’s Bay producers are well placed to meet this growing demand given that our region’s fields are free of GM crops.

The US is not the only market where GM-free food is now effectively the market standard for premium foods. Across Europe and Asia, people want GM-free food and are prepared to pay for it.

That is why maintaining our GM-free status is vital to attracting top dollar for Hawke’s Bay food products.

Farmers and growers who want to keep Hawke’s Bay’s productive land GM-free embrace science and are keenly interested in innovation that makes their businesses more efficient and sustainable.

Science and innovation is imperative to running successful agricultural businesses, which are the backbone of the Hawke’s Bay economy – creating jobs and economic opportunities for the community.

But while we can’t afford to turn our backs on science, we can’t afford science that the market place doesn’t want. And whether Federated Farmers like it or not, our consumers don’t want a bar of GM.

Protecting our GM-free status will not leave Hawke’s Bay farmers short of options. Far from it. To date, genetic modification has been a non-event for high-value food production. It has remained stuck in a rut of generating herbicide and pest resistant varieties for broad acre cropping systems. Ninety nine per cent of all GM food in the world is grown in the Americas and is used in animal feed, in domestic markets and in products that don’t need to be labelled – hardly a winning economic strategy for the Hawke’s Bay economy.

Meanwhile, conventional breeding has been making huge strides, with the assistance of the modern understanding of genetics.

As food producers, it is of real concern that the president of Federated Farmers refuses to acknowledge the opportunities that GM-free food production offers New Zealand exporters in competitive markets – or the serious economic risks that GMOs pose for a food export-dependent country such as New Zealand.

Dr Rolleston’s ideological crusade to have New Zealand food producers adopt GM is one that the country can ill afford, when market rejection of GM is so strong.

His views are not shared by some of the country’s leading food exporters, including Fonterra and Zespri, who are quite clear that GM food production is not consistent with our clean, green brand. Horticulture New Zealand takes a similar view.

Given how vital food production is to the local economy, it is fitting that Hastings District is the first in New Zealand to secure its GM-free food producer status under the local plan.

It makes good economic sense to capture the benefits of our current GM-free status, and review the situation down the line.

That it why Pure Hawke’s Bay is backing the Hastings District Council for its leadership in creating this major economic opportunity for the local economy.

Pure Hawke’s Bay is standing up for the region and working to build a strong legal case to keep Hastings GM-free.

– John Bostock is Managing Director of Bostock New Zealand and is a grower, packer, exporter and member of Pure Hawke’s Bay.

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