Exclusive: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lobbied by Chief Science Advisor to look at genetic technologies

The conversation around reforming the law that regulates genetic technology in New Zealand has been taken to the 9th floor of the Beehive.

The Prime Minister is the latest minister to be implored by officials to properly look into genetic engineering and its potential benefits. 

Documents obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act show Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Chief Science Advisor have been working together to plan a way forward in tackling the archaic law - meeting at least three times to discuss it.

The HSNO Act (Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act) regulates the technology and hasn't evolved since 1998.

Chief Science Advisor Juliet Gerrard wrote to Ardern in February signalling her intentions.

"The current framework pre-dates the advent of modern techniques and presents a major barrier to constructive debate on the extent of social licence."

Top scientific body The Royal Society Te Apārangi called for updating the regulations earlier this year.

"I propose that we build on the RSNZ piece of careful legal work to harmonise definitions across acts and regulatory bodies, to facilitate a constructive conversation about the degree of social license to use the technologies in different contexts," Gerrard said.

"The first piece of work could be carefully framed to enable the debate, rather than advocate for a particular position.

"We would need to consult widely and aim at making recommendations to Government on a  fit-for-purpose regulatory framework."

Gerrard wrote similarly to Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods.

In May the Chief Science Advisor provided an update for Ardern.

"I have raised the suggestion of doing some background legal and regulatory work with a few Ministers, and would like to get your feedback on the next steps."

Before meeting in August, Gerrard urged the Prime Minister to look at the RSNZ report because 'it is probably useful to go through this document in detail as the main focus of our meeting'.

The Prime Minister refused to comment on the story - the Chief Science Advisor wasn't available for comment.

National's Science, Research and Innovation spokesperson Parmjeet Parmar told Newshub the Prime Minister needs to do everything to support the economy and the environment.

"It looks like the Government lacks both the will and credentials to follow the advice and act accordingly."

Parmar says the technology is critical to future proofing the economy so it can't be ignored.

"The Prime Minister and her Government have been really busy setting targets for reducing the production of greenhouse gases emissions. This is a tool that's needed, so she needs to provide support for the development of this tool that is needed to achieve that reduction."

National would review the HSNO Act, the framework that governs the technology.

As Newshub has previously revealed, the Prime Minister isn't the first member of the Government that officials have encouraged to look at the possible uses of genetic technology. 

Briefings to Woods made the case for the technology to replace 1080.

Officials warned the Minister for the Environment David Parker New Zealand will fall behind the rest of the world in the area if it isn't tackled now and the HSNO Act be updated. Advice said there could be lost opportunities including economic developments, medical treatments and combating the likes of kauri dieback and myrtle rust.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has directed officials away from the area despite official advice suggesting it could be used to help rid New Zealand of predators.