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Govt funding thorough research into GM impacts

Thursday 16 October 2003 Media Statement

Govt funding thorough research into GM impacts

The Government is now funding over $7 million of research into the impacts of genetically modified organisms and biotechnology, as part of its commitment to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification.

A review by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology has examined the Government's response to the Royal Commission’s call for more publicly funded research into the social and environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) organisms.

Science Minister Pete Hodgson said the Government’s research was adding to the knowledge required to make good decisions about the use of GM organisms in New Zealand.

"This research is investigating some of the general environmental and social issues related to GM, such as understanding the impacts of horizontal or vertical gene transfer and public perceptions of risk associated with biotechnology. It is also about developing research approaches that work in New Zealand’s unique environment," Mr Hodgson said.

Anybody wishing to release a genetically modified organism in New Zealand will still have to supply specific information about its possible impacts to the Environmental Risk Management Authority.

"The Royal Commission said New Zealand should proceed carefully with GM. This research is helping us ensure we get the right balance between moving forward and weighing up the risks and benefits," said Mr Hodgson.

Two international experts who contributed to the review concluded that New Zealand has comprehensive research under way into environmental and social impacts. They noted that New Zealand’s investment in this area is consistent with that in many other countries and significantly higher than in some, such as Australia.

In addition to the $7 million a year being spent on research into the social and environmental impacts of GM organisms, research supporting the organics sector has increased by about $1 million a year to a total of $3 million a year. This follows the Royal Commission's recommendation for further research supporting organics and other sustainable farming systems.

The review recommended a number of actions for government agencies to ensure the research being undertaken would inform their decisions.

The review report is available on http://www.morst.govt.nz

Attached: Executive Summary of MoRST report "Implementing the
Government's response to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification's recommendations on research priorities".



The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (RCGM) in its July 2001 report made a total of 49 recommendations about genetic modification (GM) and its regulation in New Zealand. There were some suggestions for the enhancement of GM regulation, but the RCGM supported the basic regulatory framework that was in place. The New Zealand Government responded by supporting the intent of the majority of these recommendations and the overall RCGM strategy of preserving opportunities.

Of the 49 recommendations, there were four recommendations about the need for further publicly funded research. This report relates to these recommendations which were in two broad areas. In the first area there were three recommendations on the need for research aimed at understanding the environmental and social impacts, including socio-economic and ethical impacts, of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Government responded to these recommendations by providing additional research funding of $1 million in 2002/03 rising to $2.5 million per annum in 2003/04 in biotechnology impacts research . It was thought that this research, along with other existing research would support policy and decision-making about GM and emerging biotechnologies in New Zealand.

The second broad area where the RCGM recommended further research was on organics and other sustainable agricultural systems. The Government responded to this recommendation by supporting its intent, but it considered that there was a need for an overarching strategic direction to guide research in this area, and that work was already underway to achieve this through the development of an organics sector strategy and a review of sustainability research.

The overall result has been a reprioritising of existing research funding, and the provision of new funding to support a suite of new research in the areas identified by the RCGM.

This report documents the funding levels and type of current New Zealand research that relates to these RCGM recommendations. It discusses the role of this research and its contribution to decision-making on GM and biotechnology in New Zealand. The report also summarises two reviews that have been commissioned to investigate the balance and funding of biotechnology impacts research in New Zealand as it relates to international developments. These reports are available from the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (MoRST) .

The report is divided into four sections: Section One: Introduction; Section Two: New Zealand research meeting the needs identified by the RCGM; Section Three: Impact of the Government’s response to the RCGM recommendations on biotechnology impacts; and Section Four: Conclusions and actions for next steps.

Key findings include:

1. A number of new research programmes have been initiated through additional research funding provided in the 2002 Budget that meets the needs identified by the RCGM and agreed to be implemented by the Government.

2. Public funding of biotechnology impacts research in New Zealand has risen from very little to at least $7 million per annum over a three-year period since 1999-2000. The resulting capability, which in some cases is early in its development, will be able to inform and support policy and decision-making on biotechnology in New Zealand and is well placed to respond to on-going and future research needs. New Zealand regulates the development and use of GMOs through the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996 and the case-by-case assessment of applications will allow new research findings to be incorporated into decision-making.

3. The focus and funding levels of New Zealand biotechnology impacts research is at least consistent with comparable international research, and it is significantly more than in some countries, such as Australia.

4. The international reviewers identified some areas where they felt New Zealand could supplement existing research. These areas include: social issues related to the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops; trade and economic impacts of GM; the environmental impacts at the farm-scale; and the impacts of gene flow. While these issues may be important on an international scale, it is important for them to be considered in the New Zealand context. It is likely that these issues, if relevant for New Zealand, can be incorporated into existing research, rather than through new research funding.

5. There could be some enhancement of the way biotechnology impacts research is carried out and used. This includes more effective translation of research results into policy to ensure that policy development is informed by relevant, up-to-date New Zealand specific research.

6. Research that specifically supports the organics sector has seen an increase of approximately $0.8 million per annum to a total of $3 million per annum. This increase has resulted from a review carried out by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) of priorities for research that contributes to sustainable development. Research in the organics sector is also supported by primary production research into sustainable agriculture which is approximately $50 million per annum.

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