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The importation, development, testing, and release of genetically modified organisms are strictly regulated in New Zealand. Such activities must be approved by the Environmental Protection Authority, which is required to take into account various factors related to the potential risks and benefits of the proposal. These include environmental, economic, social, cultural, and public health considerations. Public notification of applications is generally required under the legislation.
Genetic modification techniques have been approved for use in research involving both plants and animals. These projects are subject to various controls and are conducted in contained research facilities. The relevant legislation provides for inspections to be conducted as well as including other enforcement powers. Criminal and civil penalties may be applied in relation to breaches of the legislation, and offenders may be ordered to mitigate or remedy any adverse effect on people or the environment.
There are currently no genetically modified commercial crops in New Zealand, and no fresh produce or meat sold that has been genetically modified. Imported food and ingredients derived from GMOs must be approved by a food safety authority and those that are approved for use must be clearly labeled on food packaging.
The development and use of GMOs is a topic that has generated considerable debate and controversy in New Zealand. The current regulatory approach is largely based on the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification that were released in 2001. The government’s decision to proceed cautiously with allowing for genetic modification was met with public demonstrations and there continue to be challenges to various proposals and calls for New Zealand to be “GM free.”
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, New Zealand “maintains one of the most comprehensive and rigorous approval regimes for genetically modified organisms in the world.” Genetic modification techniques have been approved for use in specific field research in contained outdoor environments, for example in relation to pest control, pharmaceutical research, and the enhancement of the production capacity of crops and animals. However, there have not yet been any applications for the release of resulting products. An imported, genetically engineered equine influenza vaccination is currently the only product containing live modified organisms that has been approved for use in the country. There are no genetically modified commercial crops being grown in New Zealand at this time, and no fresh produce or meat sold that is genetically modified. Processed food containing imported, genetically modified ingredients are assessed for safety and must comply with labeling requirements.
The importation, development, field testing, and release of “new organisms,” including genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are regulated by the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO Act). Various aspects of the HSNO Act relating to GMOs were incorporated through amending legislation that was passed in 2003, including provisions relating to the conditional release of new organisms, a civil liability and pecuniary penalties regime, as well as a requirement to establish an advisory committee to inform decision makers about matters of concern to the Māori people. The amendments resulted from the government’s response to the report of a Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, which was established in 2000 and completed its report in July 2001. The major conclusion of the Royal Commission was that New Zealand should proceed cautiously with genetic modification, but not completely “close the door” to it.
Although there is also some discussion in the country about the potential impact of the strict controls on GMOs on scientific and economic development, “there have been no official changes to the heavily regulated and cautious policy settings operated by the New Zealand Government in relation to products derived from biotechnology.”
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