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Other work underway to implement decisions

Other work underway to implement decisions

Today's announcements of the government's proposals for amending the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996 are the latest steps in implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (RCGM).

The government’s overall policy on genetic modification is in line with the Royal Commission’s major conclusion: that New Zealand should proceed with caution while preserving opportunities.

The amendments to the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 are designed to achieve that end.

Other decisions include:

Toi te Taiao: The Bioethics Council (RCGM recommendations 9.2 & 14.2) Toi te Taiao: The Bioethics Council was set up in December 2002 and will provide advice to Government on biotechnological issues (including those relating to genetic modification) that have a significant cultural, ethical and spiritual dimension. An equally important part of its job is to promote public dialogue on the issues. The 11-member Council is chaired by Sir Paul Reeves.

A programme of publicly-funded research (RCGM recommendations 6.12-6.14, 7.1 & 7.4) Public funding has been earmarked for research programmes to investigate the environmental and social impacts of genetic modification. Specific projects include work on the impact of plants, GM and conventional, on the soil and horizontal gene transfer – in which genes from one plant are passed to another in pollen, as happens in normal plant reproduction. Other research is looking at the potential impact on overseas customers’ perceptions of New Zealand’s ‘clean, green image’ and at the potential economic costs and benefits of GM. The government agency that funds research, the Foundation for Research Science and Technology, has a list of some of this research on its website at: http://www.frst.govt.nz/about/portfolio.cfm?idPortfolio=9&Version=1

Development of a Biotechnology Strategy (RCGM recommendation 14.4) Biotechnology is a broad term for a group of technologies based on the application of biological process to solve problems and make products. Genetic Modification is just one branch of Biotechnology. Other techniques include DNA technology and molecular and cellular biochemistry. At the end of last year, the Government launched a discussion document on a Biotechnology Strategy for the growth and management of biotechnology in New Zealand. Public submissions closed on 6 December and work is now going on to develop the Strategy itself.

Review of ERMA The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) is the main decision-making body for managing risks associated with hazardous substances and new organisms, including genetically-modified organisms. The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification noted that ERMA, as well as other institutions involved in making the decisions, was doing a sound and conscientious job. But it did make a number of recommendations it believed would enhance the regulation of genetic modification in New Zealand. A review of ERMA is currently underway and, among other things, that will look at the expertise and experience within the organization and whether this is appropriate for carrying out its role in dealing with new organisms.

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