Successive New Zealand governments have been “deaf to developing science” says The Opportunities Party (TOP) leader Geoff Simmons.TOP is calling for deregulation of a form of gene editing called CRISPR, a technique that can be used to remove undesirable traits from an organism or add desirable ones.
Gene editing (GE) could be used for things like removing the genetic trigger for cystic fibrosis in a person, making manuka more resilient to myrtle rust or helping kauri trees fight dieback.
Simmons says since the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification in 2001, it has been all but impossible to use genetic modification (GM) technology in New Zealand.
“That was 18 years ago – pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, and pre-smartphone. A lot has changed since that time, except for our regulations on genetics.”
New Zealand’s current legislation puts restrictions on any form of GM. Research can be conducted here, but any edited organism must be cleared by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) before it can be released.
Only two organisms have been approved since 2003, and they were both vaccines for horses.
Simmons’ proposal differs from other forms of GM – it doesn’t add any new genetic material to an organism, just rearranges what’s already there.
Research already underway in New Zealand includes a gene-edited form of ryegrass developed by AgResearch which grows 50 percent faster, requires less water and causes cattle to produce 23 percent less methane.
The company estimates the grass could result in up to $5 billion in additional revenue but due to current restrictions, it cannot be grown here.
The current law has us stuck in the past. The Government should embrace science and change the law.