Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) welcomes a new report that shows New Zealand needs to have informed conversations about its decades-old rules governing the use of genetic technologies, because our farmers may be missing out on opportunities.
The WELL_NZ: Modern gene technology – what it is and how it is regulated report (PDF, 2MB) aims to provide neutral information that encourages conversations on food and fibre production and the role of science, consumers, iwi, catchment communities, industry, and investors.
The report highlights how overseas markets have adapted their approach to keep up with the progress of genetic technologies, while arguing that New Zealand’s rules and regulations are no longer fit for purpose.
The report says most regulations have fallen under one of two broad approaches since the early 1990s – a focus on the process or a focus on the product.
Australia, USA, China, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Singapore are among the countries which regulate based on product traits, rather than process.
They impose safety assessment processes and approvals on product characteristics, irrespective of whether the product has been produced using genetic technology.
In contrast, the EU, UK and New Zealand have regulatory regimes that restrict all products which use any genetic engineering technique. They are currently the only markets that regulate based on process only.
However, the UK has a Bill before Parliament that, if passed, would update this approach, while the EU is also working on regulatory changes.
“We welcome the conversation about genetic technology,” says B+LNZ General Manager Farming Excellence Dan Brier.
“Twenty to thirty years ago, genetic technology was new, and not well understood. As a result, New Zealand employed the precautionary principle to guide its regulation.
“It’s important that we revisit this approach to maintain our food security and keep up with our competitors overseas.
“Obviously, we also need to ensure that consumers are comfortable with any changes that we make to our approach and that we maintain the high confidence they have in our food system and exports. Consumer acceptability in key markets would need to be tested as part of the process.
“We need, however, to give our farmers the best chance to adapt to the changing climate and the changing marketplace.
“An example is using genetic technology to create grass that is easier on the environment by producing less greenhouse gas emissions when consumed by a ruminant or releasing less nitrogen into waterways.”
The report highlights how the Royal Commission grappled with emerging gene technologies in 2001 and focused on applying the precautionary principle to New Zealand’s regulation to limit unknown risks.
However, recommendations from its inquiry emphasised the need to ensure ongoing calibration between regulatory settings, technology, and societal preferences, setting out guidelines and recommendations to ensure inclusive consultation would inform future policy and regulatory change.
“In the last 20 years genetic technology has advanced rapidly,” says Brier.
“This has led to calls for a re-calibration of regulatory settings around genetic technologies, as the current rules are no longer fit for purpose.
“New Zealand must maintain its competitive advantage. To do this we need to work with the latest genetic technologies.
“At the end of the day, it is the consumer that will decide and having them intimately involved in the conversation is critical.”