Pressure is mounting on the Government to tackle the controversial area of genetic technology, with officials warning if it doesn’t, the country could face lost opportunities – ranging from economic benefits to cutting-edge medical treatments and combating diseases like kauri dieback.
Documents obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act reveal the current law around genetically modified organisms (GMO) is out of date and could be restricting New Zealand’s access to the advancements the technologies provide.
In a Ministry for the Environment briefing to Environment Minister David Parker in June 2018, officials warned New Zealand could fall behind the rest of the world in the genetic engineering space. It said the rapid pace of technological change is forcing countries to clarify their positions, and recommended the Government update the law and at the very least spark a national conversation about genetic modification.
“The developments raise questions as to whether New Zealand’s regulatory framework is still appropriate as the Gnis becoming outdated in light of developments. We believe a broad public conversation is required to ascertain New Zealanders’ views on the developments.”
The HSNO Act has never had a full review, meaning it hasn’t evolved since 1998.
“The current regime is inflexible and reflects a 1998 understanding of genetic modification (GM) and the social priorities at the time.”
The law hasn’t changed but the science has.
National’s research, science and innovation spokesperson Parmjeet Parmar told Newshub the Government’s dropped the ball and the law should be looked at.
“Looking at the way this technology has evolved over the last seven or eight years, it’s outdated and definitely not fit for purpose.”
Parmar believes ignoring the advice is harming the environment and the economy.
“This is shutting down the conversation, which is not good for any Government. I think we should be really open-minded about seeing how we can take advantage of any technology. This is just like any technology – we need to learn to use it to our advantage and that is where they’re lacking.” . .
Ecologist Jamie Steer told Newshub the legislation needs to be reviewed because the technology could be a game-changer.
“In terms of gene editing, it’s already been raised as a possibility to affect the Predator Free 2050 goals, including the possibility to achieve one of the interim goals around making a science solution that’s capable of eradicating one of the target species. Another possibility is using genetic modification for increasing the survival and fitness of a species. Both are feasible but would require significant research and public engagement.” . .
Gene editing is not mixing genes from different species.
It’s simply selective breeding – opting for beneficial genes and getting rid of harmful or less productive ones.
It’s what we’ve been doing for thousands of years. The only difference is that new technology enables it to happen faster.
Gene editing could lead to the development of more nutritious food, it could be used to fight disease in people, animals and plants, it could be used for predator control.
The risks of not moderating the policy, providing its lead by science are far less than the risks of sticking with outdated law based on outdated science.