Judith Collins promises gene-editing law changes – but they are not on the urgent list

As Minister of Science Innovation and Technology, Judith Collins had been perturbingly quiet – until now – the Point of Order blog reports.  

Today she addressed a BioTechNZ and NZTech summit, which gave her a platform to explain what she intends doing in  the science domain.

She told her audience she wanted to talk about how the Government was reforming gene technology regulation to give scientists the tools they had been calling for.

While innovations such as CRISPR had made gene technologies more predictable and safer than ever, New Zealand’s outdated rules make it all but impossible to apply these technologies outside the lab.

But this one isn’t on the “urgent” list: Collins said the Government will pass legislation by the end of 2025 to enable greater use of gene technologies while ensuring strong protections for human health and the environment.

Ms Collins said that under the current Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, fewer than ten Gene Edited or Genetically Modified products have been approved for release outside labs.

No commercial GE or GM crops are grown in New Zealand, and no fresh produce developed using gene technologies is sold here.

Countries like Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom have safely embraced gene technologies, and the European Union is working to liberalise its rules.

We are being left behind, putting our climate goals at risk and depriving Kiwis of significant advances in healthcare, environmental protection and economic growth.

Then she unveiled her intentions:

  • This Government will reform New Zealand’s gene technology rules, removing barriers that prevent scientists from just getting on with their jobs.
  • It will ensure scientists are empowered to do their research here, instead of being forced to go overseas for trials and field testing.
  • It will pass legislation by the end of 2025 to enable greater use of gene technologies while ensuring strong protections for human health and the environment.
  • The new rules will be future-focused (that’s encouraging, eh?) and designed to accommodate advances in gene technologies and methods.
  • They will be based on managing the risks of these technologies, rather than focusing solely on the methods of genetic modification.
  • The regulator will oversee the new system and ensure ethical and cultural concerns are well managed.
  • It will involve a streamlined approval process to reduce the burden on both our scientists and businesses, and help you to navigate the approvals process so you do not get lost in confusing bureaucracy.

MBIE officials were holding round-table events at the Summit, and Ms  Collins encouraged her audience to participate “because these changes are being designed to support your research”.

She said said she was keen to hear from scientists on what the government can do to ensure the system works both now and into the future.

Then she gave a pointer to how she sees the business side of the science sector.

She intends to encourage private participation and co-investment in the sector, and to incentivise areas of focus for science and research “with commercial value”.

“We have a great community of spin outs and start-ups that have come from New Zealand’s science system and industry involvement in research and development is essential for our companies to deliver the economic impact we need,” she said. .

She noted the base already in place for this work to be built on, such as the Research and Development Tax Incentive which has now provided over 1,000 businesses with tax credits, supporting over $3.3 billion dollars of business investment in research and development.

Beyond this (and here she tended to vagueness), she said

“…  we need businesses to actively engage with our science system to ensure cutting edge knowledge and technology is deployed where it is most needed.

“Getting more of the right people from across businesses, universities and research institutes to connect in a meaningful manner will be essential for New Zealand to benefit from the great work you do.”

Ms Collins did say the government will pursue the technology sector commitments signalled in its manifesto to make New Zealand more attractive to technology companies, founders and to high skilled workers.

“We need to aim for the highest possible goals when it comes to economic growth, which means focusing on growing high value, exporting technology firms, and focusing on the science that will support them with cutting edge technology.”

As a first step, she drew attention to ‘Boosting the Tech Sector’ manifesto commitments which outline new potential visas as well as changes to the taxation of employee stock ownership plans.

But while Ms Collins acknowledged  that the technological advancements the country needs would not be possible without the public science system, she was sparse on information about here attentions.

Diversity in the science system “at a fundamental level” would contribute to the country’s ability to meet many challenges that lay ahead of us.

“We’ve seen the real-life impact of this, such as the importance of previous mRNA research leaving us in a position to rapidly react to a pandemic.

“We need to be ambitious, increasing focus on the science and innovation that will create and support firms working at the cutting edge of their field, that will allow us to face the upcoming challenges head on.”

In her closing remarks. Ms Collins said the challenges the country faced might be complex, but they are not insurmountable.

“It is through your work across science, innovation and technology that we find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues.

“Your work not only contributes to the advancement of knowledge, but also brings tangible progress and meaningful impact to our communities.

“The collaborative nature with which you undertake this work is very valuable to me, and these next two days are a fantastic opportunity to update each other.”

The Point of Order report said those remarks sounded more like platitudes than pointers to government plans for the science sector.



Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog