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Prime Minister Listens To His Advisors On GM – A Bipartisan Approach Possible


The Life Sciences Network welcomes Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ request for a review of the legislation on genetic technologies in the wake of National’s policy announcement to create a stand-alone biotechnology regulator.

Government advisors from the Royal Society, the Productivity Commission, the Climate Change Commission and even the Prime Minister’s current and former Chief Science Advisors have been advising that our current laws on genetic technologies are not fit for purpose and should be reviewed. The Minister for the Environment, David Parker, has been reluctant to initiate a wide review of the legislation but he has been over-ruled by the Prime Minister creating the possibility of a bipartisan approach to take the science of genetic technologies forward.

“A bipartisan approach from the two major parties would reflect the significant opportunity biotechnology offers in medicine, conservation and food production” said Dr William Rolleston, chair of the Life Sciences Network.

In their latest report on global biotech uptake the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) documents that biotech crops contributed to food security, sustainability, and climate change solutions by:

  • increasing crop productivity by 822 million tons valued at US$224.9 billion in 1996-2018; and 86.9 million tons valued at US$18.9 billion in 2018 alone;
  • conserving biodiversity in 1996 to 2018 by saving 231 million hectares of land and 24.3 million hectares of land in 2018 alone;
  • providing a safer environment
  • by saving on 776 million kg. a.i. of pesticides in 1996-2018 and by 51.7 million kg in 2018 alone from being released into the environment;
  • by saving on pesticide use by 8.3% in 1996-2018, and by 8.6% in 2018 alone;
  • by reducing EIQ (Environmental Impact Quotient) by 18.3 % in 1996-2018, and by 19% in 2018 alone.
  • reducing CO2 emissions in 2018 by 23 billion kg, equivalent to taking 15.3 million cars off the road for one year; and
  • helping alleviate poverty through uplifting the economic situation of 16-17 million small farmers, and their families totalling >65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world (Brookes and Barfoot, 2020).
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Medical progress is being made daily through genetic technologies such as CAR T-cell therapy and gene therapy for cancer and genetic disorders.

The development of gene drive provides a potential tool to realistically achieve predator free 2050 and sterile conifers would enable farmers to grow trees for valuable stock shelter without the risk of wilding pines.

While everyone agrees that regulation is important the current law has stifled innovation, in particular:

  • The definition of genetic modification should exclude aspects of gene editing, null segregants and potentially certain low risk GM lab uses
  • The unworkable and unscientific rules around field trials should instead assess and manage the risk of an organism to form a self-sustaining population
  • The application process for field trials and releases should reflect the public interest similar to that used in Australia.

“Of course, individual farmers should retain the choice to be GE free in their production systems and overseas experience shows that organic and biotech systems can and do co-exist.”

“If we are to achieve the potential biotechnology has to offer in medicine, conservation and food production, controls must be based on science,” concluded Dr Rolleston.

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