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Genetically modified food, crops and medicines

This page outlines what genetically modified food, crops and medicines are in New Zealand and how they are managed.

New Zealand food and crops

In New Zealand:

  • no fresh produce (fruit, vegetables and meat) is genetically modified
  • no genetically modified crops (eg, potatoes, sweet corn) are grown commercially
  • some processed foods may contain imported ingredients that have been genetically modified.

Management of genetically modified food and crops

Any food that is genetically modified (GM) or contains GM material must be approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. 

GM foods sold in New Zealand must be clearly labelled ‘genetically modified’ if they contain DNA or protein from a GM source or they have altered characteristics compared to their non-GM equivalent (such as a changed fatty acid profile). The Ministry for Primary Industries enforces the food standards code, which includes food labelling standards. 

Medicines in New Zealand

There are some medicines and vaccines that are made here using genetically modified bacteria as chemical factories to produce them. These medicines are known as recombinant DNA medicines. The medicines do not contain any genetically modified material. They are just products of a GM process. In most cases, the genetically engineered bacteria are grown in large fermentation vessels. 

Currently available medicines produced using this method include:

  • insulin for diabetics
  • growth hormone for individuals with pituitary dwarfism
  • tissue plasminogen activator, a substance that dissolves blood clots for heart attack victims
  • interferon, an anti-viral drug used for treating multiple sclerosis and cancer
  • hepatitis vaccines, including a hepatitis B vaccine widely used in New Zealand.

Management of medicines and genetic modification

Under New Zealand law, all medicines must be assessed as safe by Medsafe and approved by the Minister of Health. Animal remedies must be approved by the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Unit of the Ministry for Primary Industries. A vaccine for equine influenza containing live GMOs has been approved for conditional release in New Zealand by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). It can only be used in the event of an equine influenza outbreak in New Zealand and must comply with strict controls by the EPA.

A GM live vaccinia virus has been approved for conditional release in New Zealand by the EPA. It is only approved for use in clinical trials for liver cancer patients. Strict controls have been put in place by the EPA that must be complied with.

Medicines that contain a live genetically modified organism require the approval of the EPA under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act. See regulatory guidelines for medicine see New Zealand regulatory guidelines for medicines [PDF,  1,327 KB] and the medicines regulatory approval process on the Medsafe website. 

Find out more

Food requirements for things like additives, food safety, and GM [Food Standards Australia and New Zealand website].

Food safety information [Foodsmart website].