New rules allowing gene editing of food became law in Australia last week, disadvantaging New Zealand’s biotechnology sector, National’s science and innovation spokeswoman Parmjeet Parmar says.
“We are saying that NZ should keep up with Australia. We operate in the same market and now NZ is behind.”
Approval was granted in April by the Australian federal government for researchers to use GE Crispr technology on any species other than humans.
The Australian move puts pressure on NZ authorities given the countries share food regulations.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand is reviewing whether to allow genetically edited technology in food production, with the review to be completed at the end of the year.
While stressing NZ needs a strong biotech sector, Parmar is not promising a free ride for the science sector, saying any changes will follow extensive consultation.
“But it will be based on science not fear.”
She said the law restricts the techniques scientists can use but Parmar says regulations have not kept pace.
Gene editing is less invasive than the old genetic modification technology and uses knowledge such as where genes sit in the DNA sequence to allow faster, selective breeding.
“It is like a new type of breeding.”
But it is classed as genetic modification.
Parmar says biotechnology will provide answers to challenges facing agriculture and the environment and AgResearch’s high metabolisable energy ryegrass is an example of the difficulty of working through the current legislation.
AgResearch has taken the ryegrass field trials to the United States.
Even if AgResearch brings the ryegrass back to NZ for local environment and livestock trials Parmar believes our laws have delayed any commercial release by up to 10 years.
In containment trials it has been shown to reduce on-farm methane emissions by about 23% and need less water and nitrogen.
“The science around biotechnology is moving faster than ever before and NZ mustn’t fall behind.”
The Government has already said it wants to look at the laws governing genetic engineering.