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About genetic modification in New Zealand

This page has information about the use of genetic modification (also known as genetic engineering) in New Zealand.

What is genetic modification?

Genetic modification (GM) is a form of biotechnology that alters the characteristics of living organisms by moving, altering, inserting or deleting genes within or between species.

GM technology aims to improve or enhance the characteristics of plants or animals. It also has medical uses (eg, genetically modified versions of disease-causing organisms can be used to produce vaccines).

Status of genetic modification in New Zealand

GM is a permitted activity in New Zealand. However, the use of GM techniques must have approval under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act and comply with all necessary requirements.

GM techniques have been used in research here for more than a decade. 

Scientists from research institutes, private companies, universities and medical organisations use GM techniques to:

  • identify genes and understand how they work
  • investigate the control of environmental problems
  • develop plants and animals with resistance to pests and diseases
  • identify genetic variation in endangered and other native species to help manage populations or to get a better understanding of New Zealand’s biological history
  • improve or assist in plant and animal breeding techniques
  • understand, diagnose and treat human disease
  • modify animals to produce substances in their milk that can be used to treat diseases
  • teach and educate future users of GM techniques

Research into the social and environmental impacts of GM is also conducted in New Zealand. It is undertaken in contained environments such as laboratories. At present, no genetically modified products manufactured in New Zealand are commercially available. 

Safety of genetic modification

There have been no recorded cases of environmental damage or adverse health effects from GM. A number of countries including Australia, the United States, Canada and China, have produced GM crops commercially for many years such as cotton, canola, soybeans, sugar beets and sweet corn. 

Some people remain concerned about GM, despite the lack of evidence indicating adverse effects. Some farmers and exporters are worried that their sales and markets could be damaged if GM is adopted more widely in New Zealand. 

Updates to the HSNO (Not-GM) regulations

In August 2016 the Government amended the regulations under Section 141(1) of the HSNO Act to ensure several conventional and long-standing chemical and radiation treatments do not require HSNO Act approval as GMOs.