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Institutional Biological Safety Committees

Institutional Biological Safety Committees

The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) is the organisation responsible for saying yes or no to applications to develop, test, import or release genetically modified organisms in New Zealand.

However it can, under the HSNO Act, delegate decisions about low-risk genetic modifications being done in contained laboratories to Institutional Biological Safety Committees (IBSCs) based at certain research institutions.

These low risk modifications are ones that are considered to pose little risk to public health and the environment and include experiments done in teaching situations where there is little point in using the ERMA’s time to repeatedly approve the same project.

IBSCs can only decide on work done in laboratory situations where the containment meets standards laid down in regulations. The types of modifications and the containment standards are specified in the same regulations under the HSNO Act.

IBSCs have been approving low-risk experiments since 1982 when work in New Zealand using genetic techniques was in its infancy. At that stage, a voluntary scheme required that all experiments using the new techniques needed to be approved by the Advisory Committee on Novel Genetic Techniques (ACNGT), but that body delegated any with low levels of risk to the IBSCs. In deciding whether or not to grant applications, the Committees must follow rules set by the ERMA, which also monitors their decisions on a yearly basis. Those rules stress the impartiality of the IBSCs. No one closely involved in any of the projects under consideration is allowed to sit on the IBSC and each Committee includes a member of the community with no ties to the organisation, and there must also be a system of consultation with local Maori. If the ERMA considers any IBSC is not complying with the rules, it can withdraw its delegation to make decisions.

At the moment there are 18 IBSCs around the country. They are located at universities (Auckland, Lincoln, Massey, Canterbury, Otago and Waikato) and Crown Research Institutes (HortResearch, Landcare Research, AgResearch, Crop & Food Research, and Industrial Research). One private company Genesis Research and Development in Auckland also has an IBSC.

For more information about the rules under which IBSCs operate, visit the ERMA website at

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