NZBio backs fresh debate on biotechnologies

NZBio is reported to have waded into the debate over using new biotechnologies, including genetic modification, and given support to a call by Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf for another look at New Zealand’s attitude to risk.

Will Barker, chief executive of the biotech industry organisation, said the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act needs to be urgently revised so new organisms are covered by better-conceived legislation.

Attempts to interpret the current legislation have shown it to be highly restrictive, yet there are considerable benefits that new genetic technologies can offer New Zealanders,” Barker said in a statement today.

In a speech at Fieldays last week on making informed decisions about natural resources, Makhlouf said New Zealand’s current system denies choice over whether the country should adopt them  when new technologies come along, both genetically modified and non-genetically modified.

But our international competitors do have this option, he said.

Makhlouf cited the example of a new variety of high-yielding eucalyptus tree recently approved for cultivation in Brazil which will allow growers to get a 15 per cent increase in wood for the same area, processors to get a 20 per cent reduction in the cost of wood production, while the environment benefits from a 12 per cent increase in the amount of carbon dioxide stored per hectare.

Although high-yielding wood is at the core of the pulp and paper industry, New Zealand’s current regime for regulating new organisms is highly restrictive in practice, and doesn’t allow flexibility to choose whether this is something wanted here, Makhlouf said.

“I’ve heard it said that our currently regulatory regime would deny us the choice to adopt many new plants and species that today offer us huge advantages: kiwifruit, rye grass, and even the ubiquitous pinus radiata,” he said.

Makhlouf also said New Zealand was denying itself choice over how much risk it took.

“When systems adopt rigid approaches to risk, for example, rather than genuinely enabling adaptive management approaches, we limit our ability to explore and assess the potential risks of our actions,” he said.

Barker said decisions on biotechnology, including GM, should be subject to an appropriate risk-based assessment.

“Much of what is being said about GM here in New Zealand is simply inaccurate. Millions of people around the world have accepted GMOs into their environment and their food supply, because under appropriate legislation, they are recognised as having no substantial difference in risk profile to any other agriculture practice.”

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