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Benefits Seen in GM Onion Trial

Federated Farmers of New Zealand (Inc) will this week back an application from a government-owned research company to field test onions genetically modified to tolerate a common herbicide.

Hugh Ritchie, the federation's spokesman on genetic modification (GM), said the application by the New Zealand Institute for Crop & Food Research Ltd will build on research already underway and has potential to benefit producers, consumers and the environment.

Mr Ritchie is chairman of the Grains Council, an industry group of Federated Farmers of New Zealand (Inc), a voluntary organisation with more than 18,000 members.

"Federated Farmers considers the proposed field trial presents the most negligible risk possible for this type of work," Mr Ritchie said. "It will also generate valuable information in the context of New Zealand agriculture." A public hearing by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) starts Monday (November 3) to consider the application to plant onions modified for tolerance to glyphosate, a low toxicity, biodegradable herbicide.

Though farmers see potential advantages in GM technology, there must be controls to ensure that other agriculture is not put at risk, said Mr Ritchie.

"We consider the containment procedures put in place by Crop & Food Research are sufficient to manage any risk of escape," Mr Ritchie said.

Mr Ritchie plans to appear before the ERMA hearing in Christchurch to give oral evidence in support of the federation's written submission presented earlier this year.

"Glyphosate-resistant onions have potential to reduce herbicide use on onions by 70 percent. Current practices can require up to 30 spray passes on one crop, using around 13 different herbicides. Many of these substances are classified as toxic or poisonous and persistent in the environment.

"By using modified onions it will be possible to control weeds with only two or three applications. This is better for the environment and for growers concerned about risks from exposure to more toxic herbicides," Mr Ritchie said.

According to ERMA, the application is the first to field test a genetically modified plant received by the authority since the New Zealand Forest Research Institute applied to field test modified trees three years ago.

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