Previously known as Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics PSRGNZ - Charitable Trust
As required under the new 2005 Charities Act, PSGR has reregistered as a charitable trust.

Response to PSGR Open Letter to Government from the Office of the Hon Dr Nick Smith, MP for Nelson, Minister for the Environment

21 July 2011                                       

Ref  ENV 7103

 

Thank you for your email of 24 May 2011 to the government outlining the Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility’s views on genetic engineering.  I am responding on behalf of my colleagues as the points that you raise fall mainly within my responsibility as the Minister for the Environment.

I note your concerns about the potential environmental and human health effects of genetically modified organisms.  However, I can assure you that New Zealand’s regulation of genetically modified organisms recognises the potential for both positive and negative effects on people, communities, the environment and the economy from their use.  Therefore, any application to import, develop, test or release an organisms that is genetically modified (or a food or food component that has genetically modified traits) is considered on a case-by-case basis.

 

As you know, any decisions to import, develop, test or release an organism that is genetically modified are made by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA).  From 1 July 2011, these decisions will be made by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).  The Hazardous Substances and new Organisms Act 1996 (the HSNO Act) sets out how the EPA must make its decisions, including the matters that must be considered as part of the decision making process.  The EPA is compelled to consider all possible positive and adverse effects of any application to release a genetically modified organism.  The application must also meet the minimum standards required in the HSNO Act, and if there is scientific and technical uncertainty, the HSNO Act requires the EPA to take into account the need for caution in managing adverse effects.  These decision-making criteria and rigorous assessment requirements are identical to those ERMA followed.

Food safety matters fall within the portfolio of the Minister of Agriculture.  With respect to your concerns about the regulation of GM foods in New Zealand, I am advised that all food supplied in New Zealand, whether locally-produced or imported, must comply with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code).  The Code is administered by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and requires all foods and food components – including those with BM traits – must have pre-market approval from FSANZ before they can be legally sold.  The FSANZ premarket safety assessment is done on a case-by-case basis.  The assessment of GM foods and food components is based on international scientific principles and guidelines for assessing GM foods, which was developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (the pre-eminent food standards setting body of the United Nations), the World Health Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.  This approach is internationally accepted and has been adopted by many other countries including Canada, Japan and the European Union.  A list of the GM foods approved for use in New Zealand is available from the FSANZ website at www.foodstandards.govt.nz.  Further information can also found on FSANZ safety assessments in the guidance document, Safety Assessment of Genetically Modified Foods.

I am advised that all foods, food ingredients and additives sold in New Zealand that have novel DNA and/or protein is present in the final food must be labelled as GM (Standard 1.5.2 of the Code).  The purpose of this mandatory labelling requirement does not extend to the provision of information about the safety of GM foods, as any legally sold GM food ingredients would have had to have already been through a pre-market safety assessment, carefully considered and then approved.

I encourage you to continue to engage with the EPA, through public submissions processes for publicly notified HSNO applications.  In 2009, the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council announced that it would undertake a Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy.  The Review was recently completed and I have attached a copy of the recommendations from the resulting report, which is titled ‘Labelling Logic’, for your information.  Ministers will be considering their response to the recommendations later this year.

 

Yours sincerely

Hon Dr Nick Smith

Minister for the Environment

 

Letter followed by Labelling Logic page 7 to and including Recommendation 61 available on www.foodlabellingreview.gov.au/internet/foodlabelling/publishing.nsf/Content/48C0548D80E715BCCA257825001E5DC0/$File/Labelling%20Logic_2011.pdf.