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Amendments to improve HSNO Act operations

Amendments to improve HSNO Act operations

The government has announced its proposed changes to the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 to improve the way it works for decisions on organisms that are new to New Zealand.

The HSNO Act has applied to the management of new organisms since 1998 and the changes being made are a result of experience in the way the Act operates in this area.

In general, the proposed changes clarify the decision making process for the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) and allow the Authority to make more accurate assessments of the risks posed by new organisms on a case-by-case basis.

For example, they would allow ERMA to make decisions on the risk posed by an organism at the sub-species or genus level as well as at the species level – a change that is significant for organisms such as bacteria, where some sub-species or strains within the same species are highly toxic to humans and animals while others are perfectly harmless.

Other amendments would introduce more realistic timelines, when these are needed, for ERMA to publicly notify its decisions and allow the authority the ability to order prompt compliance where enforcement officers have issued a compliance order for breach of the regulations. Currently compliance orders do not take effect for, at earliest, four days – except in an emergency situation.

They also give ERMA the ability to declare that an organism is "no longer new" in cases where the organism does not have a HSNO approval but is well-established and is not subject to an eradication programme. However, the Environment Minister, Marian Hobbs stresses that this provision does not mean that smuggling is in any way being condoned.

"The change is designed to make sure people are not prosecuted for being in possession of new organisms which may have arrived by themselves rather than being introduced deliberately," Marian Hobbs said. "I want to make clear that this will not be used to legitimise the smuggling into the country of foreign organisms. On the contrary people can expect to be severely punished if they attempt to smuggle in new organisms."

As well, the changes being proposed will bring the requirements for containment of zoo and circus animals under the HSNO Act, replacing the Zoological Garden Regulations 1977, which expire in July this year.

Marian Hobbs said the proposed rules will ensure a high level of containment for zoo and circus animals but will allow for the transfer and temporary absence of animals from containment for specialist veterinary care and to allow for breeding programmes.

"We need these provisions in the interest of animal welfare and to allow New Zealand to play a role in conservation and biodiversity on a global scale. Our participation in breeding programmes is significant in helping international efforts to save endangered species that are not native to New Zealand," she said.

Other amendments would clarify the rules protecting confidential supporting information supplied in applications for ERMA approval when these become the subject of an Official Information Act (OIA) request.

The procedures for notifying applicants when there has been a request for information under the OIA would be strengthened and another amendment would more clearly define what is covered under confidential supporting information.

"There have been no problems to date in this area, but as the amount of information being provided to ERMA increases, we need to ensure that the rules and definitions are clear in the Act," the minister said.

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