GMO regulations clarified

  • Nick Smith

Minor amendments to regulations on the definition of what is and is not a genetically modified organism (GMO) have been approved by Cabinet, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith said today.

“These changes address drafting errors from the 1998 regulations that were highlighted in a recent High Court decision, and are required to maintain the workability of the law on GMOs. They do not change the intent of the current policy, but they do ensure that we do not inadvertently include many older breeding technologies within the definition of genetic modification,” Dr Smith says.

The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) 1996, which is administered by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), makes provision for regulations to exclude particular techniques from the definition of what is a GMO. The EPA issued a discussion paper in October last year on the specific wording of the “not-GM” regulations. The changes agreed by Cabinet yesterday 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 a GMO is difficult because humans have been changing the genetic content of organisms for over a century. These changes are not controversial and simply ensure the workability of the existing regulatory system,” Dr Smith says.

“There is some frustration by those in the science community that similarly low-risk biotechnologies developed since 1998 have not been included in the new ‘not GM’ regulations. The rationale for our cautious approach is that New Zealand is an exporter of billions of dollars of food products and we need to be mindful of market perceptions as well as the science. We will continue to monitor global rules around the regulation of GMOs and adapt our system over time in line with international developments.”