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MAF Seeks Comments On GM Testing For Imported Seed

6 May 2002

MAF Seeks Comments On GM Testing For Imported Seeds

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has released a discussion paper looking at ways to ensure that genetically modified (GM) seeds are not released into the New Zealand environment through seeds imported for sowing. No GM crops are grown commercially in New Zealand and no GM seeds have been approved for release into the environment.

The paper "Border control for genetically modified (GM) seeds" proposes protocols to test imported Zea mays seeds (maize, sweet corn and popcorn) and Brassica napus var. oleifera seeds (canola and oilseed rape) for the presence of GM seeds.

The main proposals are:

· no GM testing or auditing requirements for seed imported from countries that do not produce GM varieties (MAF would seek a declaration from the appropriate regulatory authority); and

· auditing to ensure that every third consignment of seed imported from other countries is tested for GM seeds (testing can be performed offshore or at the New Zealand border).

MAF has drafted similar protocols for soybean (Glycine max) and crook-neck squash/zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) and is seeking further information to decide whether these are necessary.

MAF Director General, Murray Sherwin says that by implementing these protocols, New Zealand would be one of the first countries to adopt a regulation for systematically screening imported seeds for the presence of GM seeds.

"Many other countries are grappling with the issue of unauthorised GM seeds but there is no consensus on an approach, nor are there standardised tests or audit mechanisms."

"New Zealand has strict biosecurity controls for seed imports. Most importers take care to ensure they meet these requirements and most seed companies follow international standards for seed purity and can give a high level of assurance that their seeds are not GM."

"However, even with one of the world's best biosecurity regimes, nothing can provide 100 percent guarantees. DNA testing is extremely sensitive but cannot confidently detect GM seeds below about 0.1 percent (one seed in a thousand)," said Mr Sherwin.

MAF is seeking feedback about these proposals and would like to receive comments from people who are interested in or affected by them. The deadline for comments is close of business, Friday 28 June 2002. The discussion paper is available from MAF directly, or at www.maf.govt.nz/gmseeds/.

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