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Further Work Required On GM Liability Issues

Tuesday, 16 July 2002

Further Work Required On GM Liability Issues

The government will seek further advice on liability issues concerning genetic modification to supplement a report from the Law Commission.

The government asked the Law Commission in February 2002 to report on liability regimes for losses resulting from the development, supply or use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The request was in response to the report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, which said there was no immediate need to change current law but suggested the government refer the liability issues to the Law Commission for more intensive study.

In May the government received a paper in response from the Law Commission but returned it with a request for further information. Research, Science and Technology Minister Pete Hodgson yesterday met Law Commission President Justice Bruce Robertson, recently returned from overseas, to discuss the paper.

“Justice Robertson has advised me that the commission is unable to expand its report as the government has requested,” Mr Hodgson said. “Given that decision, the government is releasing the report in its current form. On the further questions raised with the commission we will be seeking answers from officials and any other appropriate sources.

“The report concludes that no further progress can be made on the liability issue until the government decides on the extent to which GMOs are different, the extent to which people and companies involved with GM should be held directly accountable, and the extent to which the government should act as guarantor of any damage caused by GM. The Law Commission is firmly of the view that these decisions involve ethical and spiritual questions that are beyond its mandate.

“The report’s discussion of the shortcomings and possible perverse outcomes of a strict liability regime is informative. However the commission has not gone on to explore the relationship between the liability regime and the regulatory regime and look at whether strict liability has a role — in relation to conditional releases of GMOs, for example, if conditional releases proceed.

“As with releases of other new organisms to the New Zealand environment, the possible adverse effects from GMO releases range from trivial to catastrophic. That is why it is important to clarify liability issues. It is even more important, however, to assess and manage the risks of release cautiously in the first place. That is why we have the most precautionary, transparent and participatory regulatory regime in the world for the management of new organisms.”


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