Biotechnology Council To Be Established

  • Maurice Williamson
Research, Science and Technology

A new biotechnology council to consider issues relating to biotechnology is to be established, Minister of Research, Science and Technology Maurice Williamson announced today.

To be known as the Independent Biotechnology Advisory Council (IBAC), it will consist of eight to ten people drawn from a range of backgrounds who will be responsible for helping guide New Zealand's involvement in biotechnology now and in the future.

Mr Williamson said biotechnology had become strategically important to New Zealand. "It's an area where we are already making large investments through publicly funded research and an area that presents huge opportunities for new improved products and services leading to new improved economic, environmental and health benefits."

Recent estimates by the New Zealand Biotechnology Association and Biotenz indicates that biotechnology could be worth $6-10 billion to the New Zealand economy by 2010.

"But there are some strongly expressed concerns about some aspects of biotechnology, notably genetic engineering. It's an area where we need to tread carefully, always mindful of any risks to ourselves or our environment. IBAC will fill a large gap by investigating and informing the public about issues related to new biotechnology," said Mr Williamson.

"Public interest and controversy is currently focused on genetically modified food, but this is only one element of the biotechnology debate. It's important that elements of the debate are seen in the context of new biotechnology as a whole."

The primary objective of IBAC will be to stimulate dialogue and enhance public understanding of biotechnology. Its secondary role will be to provide independent advice to the Government in its consideration of the environmental, economic, ethical, social, and health aspects of biotechnology.

IBAC will not work in isolation and will be required to consult with the public, departments, agencies and organisations involved in biotechnology. Activities related to each issue could include public forums, discussion documents and in-depth investigations by working groups.

Membership of IBAC is expected to be finalised in June, with its operation getting underway shortly after this date. It will be administered in the initial stages by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, which will also fund the initiative. Further information about IBAC can be obtained from the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology: ph (04) 472 6400 ; or on its website, http://www.morst.govt.nz.