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About new organisms

This page provides information on what new organisms are, their benefits and risks and how they are regulated and managed in New Zealand.

What are new organisms?

For the purposes of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act new organisms include:

  • new species that were not present in New Zealand before 29 July 1998
  • organisms that have been given containment approval
  • genetically modified organisms
  • organisms that have been eradicated from New Zealand.

Some examples are:

  • a new species of fruit or vegetable that people want to grow
  • species that are biological control agents.

Benefits and risks of new organisms

New organisms offer both benefits and risks to New Zealand.  Benefits include new crops, biological control agents and medicines.  However, when an organism is new to New Zealand, we cannot be certain of its full potential impact on the environment (this may be either beneficial or negative). Examples of plants and animals introduced to New Zealand that have had serious environmental impacts include possums, rabbits, clematis flammula (Old Man's Beard) and tradescantia fluminensis (Wandering Jew).

Management of new organisms

New organisms in New Zealand are regulated and managed by the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO Act).

For information about the Act and regulations under the Act see Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996.

For information on how the Act works with other legislation see How the HSNO Act relates to other Acts.

Genetically modified organisms and the RMA

Councils role under the RMA

The Resource Management Act (RMA) requires local government to promote sustainable management of natural and physical resources. ‘Natural and physical resources’ include all plants and animals. Genetically modified plants or animals (GMOs) have not been specifically excluded.  

In the Environment Court (Federated Farmers of NZ v Northland Regional Council) the court found there was a role for local authorities to regulate GMOs under the RMA by providing for their integrated management.

However the ability of councils to manage the environmental effects of GMOs may vary in quality between councils. Specialist skills, knowledge and resources are required for effective management. The Environmental Protection Authority is equipped with the necessary skills and resources as part of its official mandate.

If a council provides for the integrated management of GMOs, either through regional policy statements or through rules in regional or district plans, the RMA imposes a number of requirements under section 32 of the Act.

Section 32 requires a council to:

  • evaluate why the provisions are the most appropriate way to achieve the purpose of the RMA, having regard to their efficiency and effectiveness
  • show that the provisions are consistent with the purpose and principles of the RMA provide sufficient evidence to support such provisions as an appropriate planning tool.

Find out more

Definition of new organism in the HSNO Act [New Zealand Legislation website].

New organisms [Environmental Protection Authority website].