Election 2023: National would end genetic modification ban

"There's been huge advances, very exciting advances in the technology."
"There's been huge advances, very exciting advances in the technology." Photo credit: Getty Images.

The National Party says it would end New Zealand's ban on genetic modification if it leads the next government.

Its leader, Christopher Luxon told TVNZ's Q&A programme that New Zealand needed all the tools and technology it could get to deal with climate change, improve the health of its people and grow the economy.

"Our laws have really been in a time warp from 1996 to 2003," he said.

"There's been huge advances, very exciting advances in the technology - and actually what we need to do is end the effective ban on genetic technologies as we've been talking about, but also make sure that we've got good safeguards in place."

The current legislation - last amended 20 years ago - permitted genetic research in laboratories, but field trials outside the lab need approval.

National's science and technology spokesperson, Judith Collins, said the restrictions meant scientists have to go overseas to conduct further research.

She said a National-led government would set up a biotechnology regulator to protect human and animal health and the environment.

"New Zealand can be a world leader in reducing agricultural emissions and benefit from other innovations in health, nutrition and the environment with gene technology rules that are fit-for-purpose," Collins said.

"Gene technology is being used around the world to treat cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and blood disorders. It is also being used to combat climate change and protect the natural environment."

Get rid of 'archaic' GE laws - ACT

The ACT party also welcomed National's announcement. In a media release, candidate Dr Parmjeet Parmar said a law change was desperately needed.

"ACT has long said that if we want to get serious about reducing our emissions and allowing scientific innovation in New Zealand, rather than forcing our scientists to do their work in the [United] States, we must liberalise our archaic GE laws," she said.

"For example, AgResearch has been undertaking continued research into High Metabolisable Energy ryegrass overseas," Parmar said.

"It has the potential to reduce livestock methane emissions by around 23 percent, and ensure less nitrogen is excreted into the environment by livestock feeding on this ryegrass."

In a report released in April last year, the Productivity Commission called for a renewed conversation around genetic modification, saying technology has outpaced the regulatory environment.

Luxon said a National-led government would set up a biotechnology regulator like Australia's, to protect human health, the natural environment and manage ethical concerns, while allowing New Zealanders to benefit from biotechnology.