Genetic technologies. The next steps for modernising New Zealand’s policy framework.

Executive summary

New Zealand stands at a pivotal crossroads, amidst growing calls from various stakeholders, to reevaluate its approach to how genetic modification technology is regulated. This report serves as a resource for policymakers tasked with the responsibility of reevaluating New Zealand’s biotechnology regulations. It offers historical context, explains the current situation, and outlines the fundamental principles that should guide the development of a new approach.

Key recommendations are provided for developing a bespoke policy framework that addresses the values and priorities of all New Zealanders while leveraging international best practices.

The HSNO Act of 1996, which forms the basis of New Zealand’s current regulatory framework, was enacted over 20 years ago. Since then, there have been substantial technological advancements that present new opportunities for New Zealand, but also new concerns. The existing approach is viewed by some researchers as overly cautious and cost prohibitive to engage with, and there is concern that New Zealand is falling behind trading partners and competitors.

Genetic modification has historically been a controversial topic in New Zealand, resulting in a lack of comprehensive national discourse since the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification report in 2001.

Concerns have focussed on the potential impact on the environment, health, and agricultural exports, while the effect on cultural values holds special significance for Māori. However, with growing understanding of the potential benefits for genetic technologies, New Zealand has a fresh opportunity to engage in this essential conversation and ensure that it leads to a modern, fit-for-purpose approach.

The methodology for writing this report began by identifying a primary research question – Is New Zealand’s current policy settings for the regulation of genetic technologies fit for purpose? Finding that it wasn’t led onto secondary questions of what a modern approach would look like for New Zealand and how this should be developed.

A wide range of sources were used to research these questions, from academic papers, primary sources such as government legislation, and publicly available reports written by scientific organisations and government departments. This research was supported by eight semi-structured interviews which aimed to gain a deeper understanding of the topic, test assumptions, and provide a range of expert views.

Key areas were identified for deeper research using peer reviewed papers. This included a focus on understanding Māori views towards genetic technologies and comparison of international regimes. Of particular interest for this report was international partners who had recently reviewed and updated their policies and the public views on this change.

New Zealand has the opportunity to develop a New Zealand-specific approach to genetic modification regulation, by taking learnings from the international context and incorporating key New Zealand values. This report outlines the principles that should underpin the development of a new regulatory regime and provides suggestions on how to proceed. It is crucial to understand that these are not exhaustive recommendations; the objective is to outline a process that should be followed and principles that should be included in any updated policy.

The initial step in this process should be gaining a deep understanding of the core values of New Zealanders. By creating a draft regulatory framework that aligns with these values, the Government can foster constructive discussions and develop a distinctively New Zealand approach that effectively balances both risks and opportunities.

This report recommends that the New Zealand Government:

  • Review in detail the international context, taking learnings from what works well and what doesn’t and use these findings to develop a draft policy for consultation.
  • Build on and test the work that has already done to understand the values that are important to New Zealanders with special regard to Māori views.
  • Develop a New Zealand-centric policy towards the use of genetic technologies that address the priorities and incorporates the values of all New Zealanders.
  • Explain how these values have been incorporated into any draft policy for consultation.
  • Communicate clearly what risks have been identified and how they have been addressed, as well as the opportunities a new approach would provide.
  • Develop a strong engagement package that aims to minimise the contentious nature of previous engagements. This includes the use of communicators trusted by the sector of society that you are aiming to reach.

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