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New category for release of new organisms

New category for release of new organisms

The government is proposing a new category for the release of new organisms, including genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), into New Zealand.

The new category is called "conditional release" and would be an intermediate stage between new organisms in fully contained conditions and organisms released without any conditions.

"Currently under the HSNO Act we have only containment of new organisms or general release with no conditions. The proposed new category of conditional release will allow New Zealand to implement the findings of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification to proceed with caution while preserving opportunities," the Environment Minister Marian Hobbs said.

The new category of conditional release would allow the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) to approve the release of new organisms, but only under certain conditions.

"The Royal Commission recognised that the current system failed to allow conditional release, " Marian Hobbs said.

As an example of the conditions that could be imposed, an applicant might want to grow GM carrots that when processed into possum bait produce infertility in possums. ERMA could impose controls restricting the location and size of the crop, and order that the carrots must not be allowed to flower so that there was no chance of the GM carrot pollen being carried to a non-GM carrot crop. This would allow applicants to grow the GM carrots to help reduce the possum population, while ensuring that they did not enter the human food supply.

In considering a new organism for conditional release, ERMA would need to look at it in the context of a set of minimum standards designed to protect our environmental health and biodiversity.

"The range of uses is far wider than just GM crops and the controls are not just to do with containment," the minister said.

"For example, in the case of a live GM vaccine such as some cholera vaccines, the controls could be that it be administered only under medical guidance and not to people with suppressed immune systems."

ERMA would also have the power to review its conditional release approvals where new information or new technologies justified a change in the conditions of that approval.

The Minister says the framework for conditional release requires an effective enforcement regime and that role will be carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF). The Ministry will be assigned new funding to allow it to carry out its new role and estimates are being done now of the funding required.

"An enormous amount of work has gone into thinking through the framework for conditional release and I am very pleased with the outcome," Marian Hobbs said.

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