Industry leaders, researchers, scientists, investors and policy-makers from around the world have become inured, no doubt, to hostile receptions when genetic engineering is on their menu. Those gathered in Rotorua for the 2012 Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference therefore would have taken protesters' ranting in their stride.
Nothing more menacing than research findings and ideas in the fields of biotechnology, energy, health, nutrition and food came with them into this country. At least some of that research should be worthy of widespread consideration, because it addresses some of the critical issues confronting the planet.
According to the conference organisers, the breadth and depth of New Zealand's approach to sustainability and its ability to collaborate are reflected in the five-day programme. Key speakers include some of the world's most influential leaders in agbiotech.
Dr Roger Hellens, from Plant & Food Research and one of the organisers, said much of the justification for biotechnology has been about its economic benefits. Social and environmental benefits were a secondary consideration. But that's changing as policy-makers tackle issues like water scarcity and our environmental footprint.
Some of the experts who have come here want agrichemicals phased out over the next 20 years and favour the development of biotechnologies. Some are focused on developing countries and the potential for agriculture to reduce poverty and improve education.
Inevitably, genetic engineering and its potential to help feed a hungry world is being discussed, too. But the mere prospect of anyone talking about GE outrages Luddites and the champions of organic food production. Delegates, accordingly, were greeted by a chorus of angry chants from protesters.
Green Party MP Steffan Browning is reported to have told a rival seminar that if the population "goes berserk", no system will feed the world. Until that happens, he insisted, organic and traditional means will feed the world better. GE "is not going to do it".
He may be right. But denying scientists the opportunity to demonstrate otherwise is the shameful badge of intolerance and dogmatism.
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