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New Zealand: Crops / Food

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Highly Regulated

All types of gene editing regulated as GMOs.

All gene editing techniques are considered genetic modification and are tightly regulated. New Zealand has adopted a wait-and-see-approach with regard to updating regulations to address gene editing, monitoring how other countries, especially those New Zealand exports to, decide to regulate. No gene edited crops or food are currently grown commercially in New Zealand and no applications for a full environmental release have been received by the EPA.

Gene edited plants are overseen by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), which oversees the development and release of GMOs under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996. All gene editing techniques are regulated even if they do not incorporate any foreign genes. In 2018, the Environment Minister, along with researchers, called for an update to the HSNO Act, arguing that it is essentially impossible to obtain approval for any gene edited crops and that there is no clear path to market.

While the EPA regulates gene edited organisms, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) develops and sets food standards, including regulations regarding gene edited food, which are compiled in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. The Food Standards Code requires pre-market approval and adherence to labeling standards for food produced using any gene technology, including any imported food that was produced through gene technology.

FSANZ is reviewing how it will regulate food developed using NBTs (whether they will be regulated as GMOs) and will release a final report in 2019. The report will recommend whether to amend the Food Standards Code. For example, an amendment could define conditions under which gene edited food would not require pre-market approval. No gene edited foods will be approved until FSANZ completes its review.

Products/Research

  • Drought-tolerant grass: Researchers at the New Zealand’s AgResearch developed ryegrass that can withstand drought, but is conducting the field trials in the US.
  • Hypoallergenic milk: AgResearch used a gene editing technique called TALENs to gene edit cattle without the major milk allergen.
  • Grass produces low emissions: AgResearch developed a gene edited grass that could reduce methane emissions, but is conducting the field trials in the US.

Regulatory Timeline

2019: New Zealand’s Opportunity Party releases a new policy on genetic modification that would de-regulate gene edited organisms when no new genetic material is added.

2018: The Royal Society of New Zealand, a nonprofit science advocacy group, releases a discussion paper “exploring the potential uses of gene editing for the primary industries” in New Zealand.

2017: The Royal Society of New Zealand creates a gene editing panel to facilitate discourse and research surrounding gene editing technologies.

2016: The New Zealand government decides that all gene editing techniques are considered genetic modification.

2014: High Court of New Zealand rules that organisms created using the gene editing techniques ZFNs and TALENs are considered GMOs and regulated as such.

2001: The New Zealand government established the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification to “look into and report on the issues surrounding genetic modification” In New Zealand. Their conclusion was a “proceed with caution” approach.

1999: Standard 1.5.2: “Food produced using gene technology” is adopted as a new standard within Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

1996: The Environmental Protection Authority released the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996, establishing regulations for the creation and release of non-native (GM or otherwise) organisms into New Zealand.

1991: The Food Standards Australia New Zealand 1991 is developed as a new section of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

NGO Reaction

Environmental advocacy groups including Greenpeace, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth Australia, have taken the stance that gene editing is just the newest version of transgenic modification (GMO 2.0), arguing that gene editing has not been tested enough for safety and could lead to unintended side effects.

Additional Resources

Click on a country (eg. Brazil, US) or region (eg. European Union) below to find which agriculture products and processes are approved or in development and their regulatory status. The regulations on genetically engineered crops and animals are emerging out of the regulatory landscape developed for transgenic GMOs.

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Agriculture Gene Editing Index
Compare Regulatory Restrictions Country-to-Country

Gene editing regulations worldwide are evolving. The Gene Editing Index ratings below represent the current status of gene editing regulations and will be updated as new regulations are passed.

Colors and ratings guide
 

Regulation StatusRating
Determined: No Unique Regulations*10
Lightly Regulated8
Proposed: No Unique Regulations†6
Ongoing Research, Regulations In Development5
Highly Regulated4
Mostly Prohibited2
Limited Research, No Clear Regulations1
Prohibited0
Lightly Regulated: Some or all types of gene editing are regulated more strictly than conventional agriculture, but not as strictly as transgenic GMOs.
*Determined: No Unique Regulations: Gene-edited crops that do not incorporate DNA from another species are regulated as conventional plants with no additional restrictions.

†Proposed: No Unique Regulations: Decrees under consideration for gene-edited crops that do not incorporate DNA from another species would no require unique regulations beyond current what is imposed on conventional breeding.

Crops/Food:
Gene editing of plants and food products. Research and development has mostly focused on disease resistance, drought resistance, and increasing yield, but more recent advances have produced low trans-fat oils and high-fiber grains.
Animals:
Gene editing of animals, not including animal research for human drugs and therapies. Fewer gene edited animals have been developed than gene edited crops, but scientists have developed hornless and heat-tolerant cattle and fast-growing tilapia may soon be the first gene edited animal to be consumed.

Rating by Country / Region
Click each column header and arrow to sort the countries / regions

Swipe right/left if all columns aren't visible

Country / RegionFood / CropsAnimalsAg Rating
Japan888
Brazil101010
Canada888
Russia555
Argentina101010
Israel1057.5
Australia888
China555
US1047
Chile1015.5
New Zealand444
Ukraine111
Central America666
Paraguay101010
Uruguay666
India666
UK222
Mexico111
EU222
Colombia1015.5

Global gene editing regulatory landscape

The regulations on genetically engineered crops and animals are emerging out of the regulatory landscape developed for transgenic GMOs. Regulations across 34 countries where transgenic or gene edited crops and animals are commercially allowed (as of 12/19) are guided in part by two factors:
 
 
Whether the country has ratified the international agreement that took effect in 2003 that aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from biotechnology that may impact biological diversity, also taking into account potential risks to human health. It entered into force for those nations that signed it in 2003. It applies the ‘precautionary approach as contained in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. The US, Canada, Australia and Chile and the Russian Federation have not signed the treaty.
 
 
Whether regulations are based on the genetic process used to create the trait (conventional, mutagenesis, transgenesis, gene editing, etc.) or the final product.Transgenic crops and animals (aka GMOs) are product regulated in many countries including the US and Canada, while the EU, India, China and others regulate based on how the product is made. There is almost an equal number of countries with product- and process-based regulations. It’s not clear how much this distinction matters. It’s somewhat true that countries with product-based regulation have more crops approved and the approval process is more streamlined, but there are contradictions. For example, Brazil and Argentina have emerged as GMO super powers using different regulatory concepts, while there is no GMO commercial cultivation in Japan, North Korea, and the Russian Federation, which employ product-based regulations. How this will effect gene editing regulations is also unclear. For example, Japan, which has no commercialized GMOs, is emerging as a leader in the introduction of gene edited crops.
Agricultural Landscape
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Gene editing is a set of techniques that can be used to precisely modify the DNA of almost any organism. It is being used for applications in human health, gene drives and agriculture. There are numerous gene-editing tools besides CRISPR-Cas 9, which gets most of the attention because it is a comparatively easy tool to use.

Gene editing does not usually involve transgenics – moving ‘foreign’ genes between species. It also refers to a specific technique in contrast to the general term GMO, which is scientifically ambiguous, as genetic modification is a process not a product. Most gene editing involves creating new products by deleting very small segments of DNA (sometimes in agriculture called Site-Directed Nuclease 1 or SDN-1 techniques), which can silence a gene or change a gene’s activity. Countries are evaluating whether or not to regulate this type of gene editing, since it is so similar to natural mutations. The GLP’s Gene Editing Index ratings reflect the regulatory status of SDN-1 techniques, which are the most liberally regulated and will generate most products in the near term.

To develop different products, gene editing can change larger segments of DNA or add DNA from other species (a form of transgenics sometimes in agriculture called SDN-2 or SDN-3 techniques). While many countries are not regulating or lightly regulating SDN-1 techniques, most are moving toward tightly regulating or even restricting SDN-2 and SDN-3.

For more background on the various gene editing SDN techniques, read background articles here and here.