NZBIO welcomes Government’s review of GMO regulations

NZBIO has welcomed the Government’s decision to review local government involvement in regulating genetically modified organisms.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said last week the Government would “review the appropriateness of councils being involved” in GMO regulation after High Court Justice Mary Peters dismissed an appeal by Federated Farmers and ruled that councils have jurisdiction to control the environmental impact of GMOs in their districts by regulating their use.

Smith said it made no sense for local councils to duplicate the role of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in regulating the use of GMOs in New Zealand.

He said the EPA had taken “a very cautious approach, approving only two GMOs in 20 years – an equine flu vaccine and the [liver cancer vaccine] Pexa-Vec trial.

His press statement said:

“The problem with councils regulating in this area is that they do not have the technical expertise, resulting in regulations that have unintended consequences. The further problem is that there are no biosecurity controls between councils, so having different rules in what organisms are allowed in different districts becomes a nonsense.”

Smith has asked the Ministry for the Environment for advice. Solutions could include a law change to clarify that GMO controls are determined by the EPA and not councils.

Any changes would involve public consultation, Smith said.

NZBIO, which represents the majority of bio scientists in New Zealand, last week warned that the country was in danger of becoming a back-water for bioscience after Federated Farmers’ appeal was dismissed.

Dr Will Barker, chief executive of NZBIO, today said it had never made sense to duplicate the role of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in regulating the use of GMOs throughout New Zealand.

Dr Barker said NZBIO has been calling for a public debate on GMO since the science around genetic modification has developed significantly since the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act was enacted in New Zealand 1996.

“Many New Zealanders still rely on emotive, 1990s GMO rhetoric, not realising what has happened around the word since that time,” Dr Barker said.

“All we have been asking for is a chance to have New Zealanders talk about the issue and to be part of the decision-making of where this country goes with modern GMO.

“That decision should not be the responsibility of any one group, whether they be anti-GMO lobbyists or indeed bio scientists. This country needs people to make an educated and informed majority choice.”

Federated Farmers has also welcomed Smith’s comments. Its president, William Rolleston , said regional authorities weren’t equipped to regulate the technology.

Unqualified council staff should not regulate technology they don’t understand and stifle new emerging science, he said.

Overseas 90-95% of farmers had used genetically modified organisms when they were permitted to do so. In this country, farmers in every district deserved to have choice to use technologies which had been assessed as safe by the EPA.

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