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Letter: NZ Stance in GE Negotiations

[Scoop Note: This letter was sent by the Minister to a member of the public, who released it to Scoop]

Thank you for your recent email regarding New Zealand's stance during the Third Meeting of the Parties (MOP3) to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and position on genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs) during the Eighth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP8) to the Convention on Biological Diversity that took place in Brazil in March this year.

A great deal of misinformation on these matters has been circulating in recent weeks so I am pleased to have the opportunity to explain the government's position during the MOP3 and COP8 negotiations.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is an international treaty that regulates international trade in certain types of organisms known as living modified organisms (LMOs). LMOs include all genetically modified organisms (GMOs). New Zealand fully supports the objective of the Cartagena Protocol to provide adequate documentation to accompany trans-boundary movements of LMOs, so that countries are fully informed when making decisions about whether or not to allow such imports.

At MOP3 New Zealand supported proposals that where an agricultural commodity for food, feed or processing contains LMOs, it should be documented or "labelled" accordingly. However, New Zealand also believes that if such rules are to work as intended, they must be meaningful and must be able to be used by participating countries, both importers and exporters New Zealand believed that some of the proposals with regard to labelling were unworkable in practice, and also could have had very negative impacts on all our agricultural trade (including our conventional and organic exports).

The New Zealand delegation worked constructively during the meeting to achieve a balanced decision that allowed for meaningful documentation but that does not constitute a disguised restriction on trade, or that may have lead to a situation where all conventional agricultural shipments (including organic crops) were regulated under the Protocol and had to be labelled "may contain LMOs".

The final decisions, made with the agreement of all parties, were in accordance with New Zealand's position.


Negotiations at COP8 regarding GURTs have attracted significant attention from media and non-governmental organisations. GURTs is an umbrella term that encompasses a broad range of technologies involving genetic modification.

Countries at COP8 were not asked to vote on removing a 'moratorium' on the use of GURTs. There is no moratorium or international agreement to ban the use of GURTs in genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In summary, the key decision in this regard, taken in 2000, recommended that products incorporating such technologies should not be approved for field testing until appropriate scientific data can justify such testing, or for commercial use until appropriate, authorized and strictly controlled scientific assessments have been carried out and the conditions for their safe and beneficial use validated. This is fully consistent with New Zealand's approach to case-by-case decision-making under the HSNO Act.

Also, countries at COP8 in Brazil were not asked to vote on banning the use of GURTs. The proposals under discussion were the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Working Group on Article 8(j) (Traditional Knowledge, Innovations and Practices) and Related Provisions and the recommendations of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) concerning the potential socio-economic impacts of GURTs on indigenous and local communities.

All countries agreed to accept the recommendations of the SBSTTA on GURTs at the meeting. These recommendations included respecting traditional knowledge and farmers' rights to the preservation of seeds under traditional cultivation and to continue to undertake further research on the impacts of GURTs, particularly on indigenous and local communities, and to continue to disseminate the results of such studies. New Zealand positively contributed to this consensus outcome.

New Zealand is sensitive to the concerns raised about the vulnerability of indigenous communities and subsistence farmers to the specific subset of GURTs relating to seed sterilisation or "terminator" technology. New Zealand respects the right of farmers, indigenous and local communities to use, save and exchange their farm-saved seeds, subject to national legislation.

The decision taken at COP8 is consistent with and does not affect our domestic policy of assessing GMOs on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996. The New Zealand government continues to recognise the potential for both adverse and positive impacts of GURTs.

I appreciate the concerns you have raised but I consider that individual countries should be allowed to determine for themselves the risks and benefits of any technology and make their own decisions regarding whether they will accept it.

Yours sincerely

Hon David Benson-Pope


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