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EPA clarifies GMO definition

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has released a clarification that certain organisms, known as null segregants, are not considered genetically modified organisms under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996.

Null segregants are descended from genetically modified organisms but do not contain genetic modifications themselves. This can occur when one parent has the genetic modification, and the other parent does not.

EPA General Manager Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Dr Chris Hill says, “This decision provides certainty for researchers in our primary industries and brings New Zealand into line with other countries in the OECD, such as Australia and the United States. This will help New Zealand scientists keep pace with international research.

“Our experts make independent, evidence-based decisions that take into account the latest research and international best practice,” says Dr Hill.

Just as a brown-eyed parent may have a blue-eyed child who did not inherit the gene for brown eyes, plants, animals or other organisms that are descended from genetically modified organisms may not inherit their parents’ genetic modifications. This means the descendants do not contain any genetic modifications.

One possible use of null segregants is for accelerated breeding in horticulture. This is done by using a genetic modification that makes plants produce fruit much sooner than would normally occur. This in turn allows desirable traits, such as resistance to a particular disease, to be developed much faster using traditional, non-GM selective breeding techniques. Null segregant offspring can then be created by breeding out the genetic modification.

“This would vastly reduce the amount of time to bring a new variety to market,” says Dr Hill.

The introduction of any specific null segregant into the environment will be verified case by case by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

This does not change the regulations for food that contains genetically modified organisms or ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms. These come under the Food Standards Code, overseen by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

Find out more about null segregants.Read the full details of the decision.


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