Genetic modification – benefits and risks for New Zealand grassland production systems
Fundamentally plant breeding is about expanding and exploiting the genetic potential of plants (Stoskopf et al. 2019). Over time this has included amongst others phenotypic selection, mutagenesis, genetic modification (GM) and now gene editing (Bowerman et al. 2023). In many crop species genetic modification has been a valuable option for delivering improved economic and environmental outcomes. However, while genetic modification has been extensively used in crops for 25 years it has rarely been a technology used to advance trait expression in forage and grassland species. Worldwide, GM technologies have been adopted at a faster rate than any other recent crop technology (Raman 2017; Scheitrum et al. 2020). Despite the large government investment into GM technologies for use in grass and forage plants it has not used outside of containment in New Zealand (Caradus 2008).
The aim here is to review why New Zealand has been so reluctant to use GM technologies as another means of providing solutions for the pastoral sector. Traits manipulated using a range of genetic modification techniques that might have application and benefit in grassland systems will be reviewed, and regulatory concerns that need to be considered when adopting GM forage and pasture plants will be discussed. Interestingly, 70 to 90% of GM crop production globally is used for animal feed (Flachowsky et al. 2012; Ritchie and Roser 2021). So if animals across the world, including those in USA, China and Europe are being fed GM crops (Baulcombe et al. 2014) why would New Zealand be concerned about using GM pasture plants? Although over a decade old, a useful summary of views from a variety of stakeholders is provided by the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural & Horticultural Science (AgScience 2010).
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