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.
- 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.
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.
2016: The New Zealand government decides that all gene editing techniques are considered genetic modification.
2013: High Court of New Zealand rules that organisms created using ZFNs 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.
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.
- Genetic Literacy Project’s FAQ on gene editing
- Library of Congress summary of New Zealand gene regulations includes detailed analysis of the country’s evolving biosafety laws and liabilities
- A New Zealand Perspective on the Application and Regulation of Gene Editing
- Royal Society of New Zealand: Gene Editing: Legal and Regulatory Implications