Our views on genetic modification

Plant & Food Research’s purpose is to enhance the value and productivity of New Zealand’s horticultural, arable, seafood and food and beverage industries to contribute to economic growth and the environmental and social prosperity of New Zealand.

Genetic modification offers two potential benefits relevant to this purpose:

  • As a research tool. The use of genetic modification in containment laboratories and glasshouses can allow us to gain knowledge of genes and how they function. It can provide unique insights and faster understanding of plant biology.
  • As a technology directly applied through genetically modified plant cultivars. Genetically modified cultivars may allow the realisation of benefits beyond what can be achieved by conventionally bred cultivars, in areas such as sustainable production, nutritional value, and pest and disease resistance.

While there is broad acceptance in New Zealand of the value of genetic modification as a research tool within containment, discussion continues in industry and society as to whether New Zealand should employ genetic modification as a technology in the field at this time, whether solely for research or for the primary production of foodstuffs.

The objectives of our research involving genetic modification technology are:

  • To undertake research on the development and function of plants, pests and diseases.
  • To accelerate and/or improve the development of new non-GM cultivars.
  • To develop and maintain sufficient capability to enable New Zealand to utilise genetic modification technology more widely in the event of widespread adoption and acceptance of genetically modified crops in New Zealand or in our export markets.
  • To gain knowledge of the potential risks and benefits of the wider use of genetic modification technologies, to inform public consideration of these issues in New Zealand.

Plant & Food Research makes use of genetic modification only within approved containment facilities. This approach ensures we are able to advance our research for the benefit of New Zealand industry while preserving options with regard to any future adoption of this technology more widely in agriculture.

Our stance on the use of genetic modification by Plant & Food Research

  • Plant & Food Research will use genetic modification as a research tool and will further work to develop our capability to potentially harness genetic modification more widely for the benefit of New Zealand should industry and society require this.
  • Our research using genetic modification will be conducted in accordance with relevant laws and regulatory guidelines. We will set our internal compliance targets at levels which exceed those required by law.
  • Plant & Food Research will not seek to develop genetically modified cultivars for commercial release without the clear public support of the relevant New Zealand industry sectors, as well as commercial or research relationships with a clear net benefit to New Zealand.
  • In general we will only conduct research involving genetic modification within approved physical containment facilities.
  • Because of the greater sensitivity and costs, a high threshold will apply to field trials. These will only be conducted in New Zealand if there is clear public support from the relevant New Zealand industry sectors and full approval from regulatory authorities. If a field trial is required to provide important or valuable knowledge for New Zealand, we may conduct field trials outside New Zealand in territories where this is lawful, the risks are lower, and within the bounds of a visible commercial or research relationship with clear benefit to New Zealand.
  • Wherever possible we will publish our research and collaborate within New Zealand and globally to ensure effective technology transfer, uptake and sharing of scientific knowledge. In cases where this delivers a clear benefit for New Zealand, we may engage with other research organisations, industries and commercial entities that wish to legally and ethically apply intellectual property from our research in their own research or commercial endeavours.
  • We will make public our Institute stance on genetic modification and will contribute to public consideration of the potential introduction of genetically modified plants and organisms to New Zealand’s primary production sector. In this regard we will recognise the role of industry and the wider public in determining the use of this technology outside containment in New Zealand, and will provide accurate information from our own and others’ research to inform this discussion.
  • We respect the right of our staff to hold views on genetic modification that differ from our Institute policy/stance. We will further respect the right of staff to engage as individuals in constructive scientific and social debate on the topic of genetic modification, provided their views as individuals are clearly identified as not representing our Institute’s stance and taking all reasonable steps to avoid confusion of this distinction.
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