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EPA to consult on GMO regulations

Hon Dr Nick Smith

Minister for the Environment
30 October 2015 Media Statement

EPA to consult on GMO regulations

Changes to regulations on the definition of what is and is not a genetically modified organism (GMO) are needed to maintain the workability of the law on GMOs administered by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith said today.

“These are cautious proposals that simply address drafting errors from the 1998 regulations that were highlighted in a recent High Court decision. They are necessary to ensure we do not inadvertently include many older breeding technologies within the definition of genetic modification and do not change the intent of the current policy,” Dr Smith says.

The Environmental Protection Authority has issued a discussion paper today on the specific wording of the “not-GM” regulations. The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) 1996 makes provision for regulations to exclude particular techniques from the definition of what is a GMO. The discussion paper contains proposals to clarify that all organisms developed through conventional and longstanding chemical and radiation treatments do not require HSNO Act approval as GMOs.

“The definition of what is and is not genetically modified is fraught with difficulty. There is a spectrum of artificial techniques that change the genetic composition of plants and animals – from selective breeding, to methods using radiation and chemicals that increase mutations, to quite sophisticated chemicals that make specific targeted changes. There is no international consensus on where the definition should exist between what is and is not a GMO,” Dr Smith says.

“Biotechnology has moved on from when the original regulations were put in place in 1998. Some have argued that there should be a broader review of these definitions and that new techniques that do not introduce new genetic material and pose minimal risk should also be excluded. We have decided to take a cautious approach to the proposals in the discussion paper. We are seeking to make the existing system workable and to take a wait-and-see approach on international developments before making any more significant alterations to the legislative framework.

“New Zealand is an exporter of billions of dollars of food products and we receive a premium for our natural brand and high quality standards. These are minimalist changes because we do not want New Zealand getting ahead of market perceptions of these new biotechnologies.”

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