Gene editing tools will deliver a major boost to the New Zealand plant breeding sector currently struggling to keep up with its major trade competitors.
So says Plant Breeding and Research Association (PBRA) vice-president John Caradus, who welcomed the National Party announcement that it would end NZ’s effective ban on gene editing (GE) and genetic modification (GM) if elected in October.
“This will deliver a major boost to plant breeders by improving access to new breeding techniques and tools, such as CRISPR used in targeted gene editing,” Caradus said.
Some of the new breeding techniques did not exist when the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act was passed in 1996.
“There are inconsistent approaches to regulating GM plants across different countries and NZ is becoming an outlier particularly regarding the use of new breeding techniques,” he said.
“NZ plant breeders are looking forward to more easily accessing new breeding tools, something already enjoyed by our major trade competitors such as Australia, China, and the US,” Caradus said.
The policy will enable plant breeders to investigate the merits of various new breeding techniques that can reduce the time and cost involved in developing new cultivars.
“Both GM and GEd technologies are valuable options that need to be promoted to solve current challenges and as a result improve not simply economic outcomes but also the environment.
“It opens up an opportunity for plant breeders to effectively evaluate the risks and benefits of cultivars with new value-added traits in NZ rather than offshore.”
The policy has the potential to add further value to local plant breeding, and in turn strengthen NZ’s already diverse seed export base, Caradus said.
NZ’s plant breeding and seed multiplication business for the seasonal northern hemisphere markets will also benefit from the policy change, especially in products that deliver environmental benefits, climate change mitigation and sustainability goals.
Wheat growers also welcomed any policy that will keep them competitive.
United Wheatgrowers board director Brian Leadley said keeping competitive on the international stage is important.
“We need to keep competitive with the wheat varieties we grow because without that ability the agronomic benefit of our international competitors leaves us disadvantaged.
“We need the support of new breeding technologies to improve disease and pest resistance, quality and yield.
“The quality parameters around milling wheat varieties are extremely crucial in the seed we put in the ground.
“In terms of food security and matching that with environmental issues, as growers, and for wider NZ communities, support from advanced plant breeding techniques is important in how we produce our crops,” Leadley said.