Time to reconsider gene editing laws

EDITORIAL

The response from Environment Minister David Parker to two papers from the Royal Society Te Aparangi on the benefits gene editing could bring to our lives is understandably cautious, but also encouraging.

New Zealand’s top scientific body has joined calls for an overhaul of our 2003 genetic engineering laws, after finding an “urgent need” to consider how we might use this contentious and evolving technology in the areas of pest control, primary industries and medicine. It favours moving away from a black-and-white view of genetic modification, towards an approach that looks at specific applications and what benefits and risks they carry.

Mr Parker said he was aware of the potential benefits and agreed with the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser that there was a spectrum of genetic modification.

While advancements in gene editing were not prohibited by New Zealand’s existing precautionary approach, he had asked officials for advice on where the lowering of regulatory hurdles ought to be considered to enable medical uses, or contained laboratory tests.

Last month the Government’s Interim Climate Change Committee raised prohibitive regulations around genetics as a potential obstruction to lowering emissions on farms. It gave the example of a GM ryegrass developed by AgResearch that could reduce both methane and nitrous oxide emissions from grazing animals, but was having to be tested in the United States and would not be able to be used here under current laws.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said then that his Green Party wasn’t budging on its long-standing opposition to GM but that the Goverment had accepted it had a responsibility to at least look at the regulatory environment, with regard to the climate outcomes New Zealand needed. It would have to be “incredibly careful” about changes, though, as our consumer brand around the provenance of our food and “100% pure” was hard-won.

Conservation Minister and Green MP Eugenie Sage has stopped genetic work being conducted as part of the Government’s predator-free programme.

Expect the coalition Government to proceed with caution, but hopefully enough open minds.

The response from Environment Minister David Parker to two papers from the Royal Society Te Aparangi on the benefits gene editing could bring to our lives is understandably cautious, but also encouraging.

New Zealand’s top scientific body has joined calls for an overhaul of our 2003 genetic engineering laws, after finding an “urgent need” to consider how we might use this contentious and evolving technology in the areas of pest control, primary industries and medicine. It favours moving away from a black-and-white view of genetic modification, towards an approach that looks at specific applications and what benefits and risks they carry.

Mr Parker said he was aware of the potential benefits and agreed with the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser that there was a spectrum of genetic modification.

While advancements in gene editing were not prohibited by New Zealand’s existing precautionary approach, he had asked officials for advice on where the lowering of regulatory hurdles ought to be considered to enable medical uses, or contained laboratory tests.

Last month the Government’s Interim Climate Change Committee raised prohibitive regulations around genetics as a potential obstruction to lowering emissions on farms. It gave the example of a GM ryegrass developed by AgResearch that could reduce both methane and nitrous oxide emissions from grazing animals, but was having to be tested in the United States and would not be able to be used here under current laws.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said then that his Green Party wasn’t budging on its long-standing opposition to GM but that the Goverment had accepted it had a responsibility to at least look at the regulatory environment, with regard to the climate outcomes New Zealand needed. It would have to be “incredibly careful” about changes, though, as our consumer brand around the provenance of our food and “100% pure” was hard-won.

Conservation Minister and Green MP Eugenie Sage has stopped genetic work being conducted as part of the Government’s predator-free programme.

Expect the coalition Government to proceed with caution, but hopefully enough open minds.

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