PO Box 13402
Wellington, New Zealand

GE-Free New Zealand

in food and environment (RAGE Inc.)


Costly research and little success from GE Ryegrass Trials


Results from field trials of GE rye grass, engineered to deal with climate change effects, show that it performs poorly compared to existing rye grass varieties. Information received under the OIA reported that there was no significant difference in performance between the GE traits and controls, except in one trait line. All the other lines had poorer performance outcomes. [1}

Despite years of experimentation no feeding trial with animals have yet been conducted.

Trials conducted on the GE ryegrass in the US from 2017-2022, have cost $25 million dollars and the outcome is poor at best. The most elite rye grass cultivar was genetically engineered using a sesame seed gene to produce more fatty acids. Results found that there was a poor yield in a majority of lines and when the grass was grown in competition with other species, it performed poorly. The increased fatty acids led to a decreased leaf sugar, [2] which could negatively affect plant performance.

The majority of the GE rye grass experiments were conducted in controlled greenhouse conditions. In 2020, it was expected that there would be enough GE rye grass dry matter to be able to conduct a feeding trial on 16 cows. However, the trials were postponed until 2023-2024. AgResearch is now considering doing further trials in Australia. Plants for these trials will be grown in glasshouse containment in Palmerston North.

“This failed experiment has cost the taxpayer millions of dollars for no positive result. Rye grass is available today with more sustainable and proven outcomes than the poorly performing GE ryegrass,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free New Zealand.

Over the years, selective breeding of crops using traditional methods have resulted in desirable traits of many well performing pasture varieties. These are bred to suit New Zealand growing conditions. Organic regenerative methods are climate change in action.

In New Zealand trials of GE ryegrass by seed breeders like Germinal Seeds have shown superior nutritional benefits and production gains compared to a conventional variety of rye grass. [3] They also reported that sheep fed with this rye grass had their methane emissions lowered by 9%.

It, however, has already been shown that seaweed supplementation of pasture reduces harmful greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 %, when fed to steers. The California study also found the cattle consumed less food and still gained weight. [4]

Despite such research findings, the Crown Research Institute (CRI) AgResearch is ignoring the superior growth of grasses grown using ecological pasture management practices and is only focused on GE technology. AgResearch hoped to have GE ryegrass commercialised by 2004, then 2010, and then by 2022. It is now forecast for 2028.

Tinkering with GE is ignoring the real problems of overstocking, pesticide burn off, grazing to mud with no cover crops exposing the bare ground. These practices destroy pastureland and result in the release of increased greenhouse gases. [5]

“New Zealand is leading the way in developing new plant varieties using conventional breeding techniques that reduce effects on climate,” said Bleakley “The Government Ministries should be supporting and recognising the existing agro ecological solutions available and supporting systems to promote them”.


[1] OIA requests AgResearch GE Rye grass trials, https://www.gefree.org.nz/official-information-act-requests/
[2]Beechey-Gradwell, Z., Kadam, S., Bryan, G., Cooney, L., Nelson, K., & Richardson, K. et al. (2022). Lolium perenne engineered for elevated leaf lipids exhibits greater energy density in field canopies under defoliation. Field Crops Research, 275, 108340. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fcr.2021.108340
[3] https://germinal.co.nz/climate-change/
[4] Roque BM, Venegas M, Kinley RD, de Nys R, Duarte TL, Yang X, et al. (2021) Red seaweed (Asparagopsis taxiformis) supplementation reduces enteric methane by over 80 percent in beef steers. PLoS ONE 16(3): e0247820. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0247820
[5] Soil Carbon Science https://www.agmatters.nz/goals/maintain-soil-carbon/soil-carbon-science/