KEEPING BIOTECH OPTIONS OPEN IMPORTANT - MINISTER

  • Maurice Williamson
Research, Science and Technology

"The call by the Independent Biotechnology Advisory Council (IBAC) to hold off on the unrestricted release of genetically modified crops is a sensible way of giving the public a further chance to consider the issues," Research Science and Technology Minister Maurice Williamson said today.

IBAC's recommendation has been passed on to the Minister for the Environment, Simon Upton, who is responsible for the ERMA process.

"If more time is needed for gathering information before a decision on the release of these crops is made, this must be for a finite period. If the IBAC recommendation is heeded, IBAC should be required to report back before 31 March 2000," said Mr Williamson.

"This would provide some clarity of process to the science and technology community. We need to ensure a balance between the potential economic benefits for biotechnology to New Zealand and environmental considerations."

"It's worth noting that no applications for unrestricted field release have been made to ERMA yet, so this is a request for an additional cautionary move to ensure there is enough time to take all the factors into account with consultation and research," Mr Williamson said.

The Council's recommendation does not apply to animals and it will be business as usual for laboratory research and contained field trials under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO).

"It is only the unrestricted field release of GM crops into the environment which the Council wants more time to look at. The Council is putting together a framework to gather the information it needs to weigh up the issue. Through the IBAC consultation process, all New Zealanders will be able to have a say."

"New Zealand needs to keep an open mind on this issue, and gather all the information we can. We don't want to be too hasty to either embrace or reject the potential of biotechnology."

"I appreciate the independent role of IBAC. It has high calibre members from many different backgrounds and I look forward to their advice on the environmental and trade implications in the field release of GM crops."

For further details of IBAC's consultation process see www.ibac.org.nz.