Government responds (cautiously) to report on gene editing but National calls for urgency

The Government’s response to the recently released papers on gene editing from the Royal Society Te Apārangi was issued by Environment Minister David Parker, not Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods.

We may suppose this is a consequence of New Zealand’s legislation on genetic modification being administered by the Environmental Protection Authority.

The society’s papers note “there are considerable benefits that gene editing can bring to our lives, particularly in health,” Mr Parker acknowledged.

The provisions governing gene editing, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs), were amended in 2003 in line with the Government’s overall policy of proceeding with caution while preserving opportunities.

The Minister said in his media statement: 

“I’m aware there are instances where gene editing techniques could be applied to improve the lives of New Zealanders and agree with the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor that there is a spectrum of genetic modification.

“Although New Zealand takes a precautionary approach, advancements in gene editing are not prohibited. There are already instances where the EPA has approved the use of modified organisms, for example Pexa-Vec currently used in clinical trials for the treatment of liver and kidney cancer.

“I have asked officials to advise me of where lower regulatory hurdles ought to be considered to enable medical uses that would result in no inheritable traits, or laboratory tests where any risk is mitigated by containment. The recommendation to clarify conflicting or inconsistent definitions across the regulatory framework will also be considered.”

Mr Parker said he was grateful to the Royal Society Te Apārangi for the material it has prepared.  He looked forward to hearing people’s views on this matter and considering the report’s recommendations in more detail.

National responded to the Royal Society’s report with a statement from its spokesperson for Research, Science and Innovation, Dr Parmjeet Parmar.

She says the papers reinforce the view that the Government can’t continue to ignore biotechnology.

“The report shows that that legislation needs to be updated as the restrictions it imposes are disproportionate to the risks given the latest advancements in the field of gene-editing.

“The report looked at the benefits that biotechnology could have in the fields of pest control, health and the primary sector. It shows that we need to have a public debate to update the legislation so that the benefits can be explored.

“The Government has ignored official advice that New Zealand is falling behind the rest of the world. The Government needs to stop letting its ideology get in the way and let the science speak for itself.”

The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act was drafted when the current advancements couldn’t have even been imagined, Dr Parmar said.

“It’s now time for the law to catch up with reality.”

National has committed to modernising the rules around biotechnology in both the environment and primary industries discussion documents.

Dr Parmar called on the Government to act urgently to respond to the need to bring the legislation governing biotechnology in New Zealand in line with the latest advancements in this field.

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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