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Summary of key Government decisions

Royal Commission on Genetic Modification -

Summary of key Government decisions

30 October 2001

Overview of Government Response

The major theme of the Royal Commission’s report is “preserving opportunities”. The Commission thought it unwise for New Zealand to turn its back on the potential advantages on offer from genetic modification, but recommended that New Zealand should proceed carefully and implement genetic modification cautiously, minimising and managing risks.

The Government supports the overall strategy of preserving opportunities suggested by the Royal Commission, which gave a balanced and thorough consideration to the issues. The Government is primarily concerned about the health and safety of all New Zealanders and their environment, and wants to take a precautionary approach to how to proceed with genetic modification.

However, it has come to some different conclusions as to how the overall strategy of preserving opportunities should best be implemented. The differences are in two main areas:

- the extent to which commercial release should be possible in the immediate future

- the conditions under which research should be able to proceed.

A constraint period on the commercial release of GMOs

The Government believes that there is a need to constrain the release of genetically modified organisms (with limited exceptions) for a period while work, analysis and research identified as necessary by the Royal Commission is underway.

There will be a legislated two-year constraint period during which time no applications can be lodged with ERMA for release of GMOs except those that provide direct benefits to human health or animal health or in accordance with the existing emergency provisions of HSNO.

Any exemption will also require that:

- Applicants provide additional information demonstrating that the organism cannot persist viably in the physical environment beyond the target organism.

- ERMA take account of relative efficacy, safety and ecological effects.

The constraint period is to allow time to:

- establish or continue research programmes addressing areas of socio-economic, ethical, environmental and agricultural research which were identified by the Royal Commission as needing additional work;

- put in place amendments to the HSNO Act

- establish a Bioethics Council;

- complete generic work on the economic impacts of any GM crop release on the strategy of "preserving opportunities";

- undertake appropriate work on other issues identified by the Commission

Contained research

The Government supports the Commission’s conclusion that the regulatory framework governing research involving genetic modification is sound. It considers that the case-by-case approach taken by ERMA under the HSNO Act (which includes scope for public input), supported by the range of containment provisions, provides a strict and rigorous regime.

At present ERMA has some discretion to determine all the conditions to be applied to approved research. The Government intends to clarify its expectation that all research must meet strict safety standards. The HSNO Act will be amended to require specific mandatory conditions to be applied to any research approval to ensure that appropriate environmental and health safeguards are imposed.

This will include explicit conditions on contained field tests of genetically modified plants to ensure that :

- once a plant reaches the stage where it is capable of releasing heritable material (eg, seed), any reproductive structure above the ground must be securely contained or immediately removed and destroyed.

- any heritable material beneath the ground (eg, potato) must be either destroyed once the test is complete or retained in conditions of high security. All material associated with the trial must be removed from the site by destruction or otherwise.

- any animals involved in field tests, including their offspring, must be held in secure containment and clearly identified in case the animal escapes.

- appropriate inspection and monitoring conditions will be compulsory. ERMA will be required to take account of relative efficacy, safety and ecological effects.

Other key recommendations of the Royal Commission

Toi te Taiao: The Bioethics Council will be established to advise, provide guidelines and promote dialogue on the cultural, ethical and spiritual issues associated with biotechnology.

Biotechnology Strategy: A strategy to ensure that New Zealand keeps abreast of developments in biotechnology will be developed, with a mechanism to ensure ongoing balance between benefits and risks.

Liability: The liability system for GM related issues will be further investigated during the constraint period. The Minister Responsible for the Law Commission has been invited to consider this for inclusion in the Law Commission’s work programme. This will ensure that any potential problems with the existing liability system are identified and addressed proactively.

Parliamentary Commissioner for Biotechnology. The role does not meet the criteria set down for the establishment of a Parliamentary Commissioner and has not been agreed to by government. The tasks envisaged for the Commissioner will be considered in the biotechnology strategy.

Further work/research: Officials are to explore coexistence and conditional release frameworks as far as is practicable in the absence of releases and undertake economic analysis on the risks and opportunities that may arise from GM and non-GM technologies by the end of February 2003.

ENDS


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