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GE watchdog decision risks compromising protection of the environment and health – GE Free New Zealand

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has released its decision on “null segregants” (APP204173) defining them as “not genetically engineered organisms”. In February, Plant and Food applied to the EPA to determine if “null segregants” were considered to be genetically engineered organisms (GE). [1] [1a]

The EPA has yet again misinterpretedNew Zealand legislation. It breaches the sovereign right of NZ when the decision is based on interpreting what is done overseas around the status of null segregants.

“Public trust in the EPAs interpretation around Genetic Engineering regulation has been undermined by this decision to avoid regulation,” said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-free NZ (in food and environment).

The application for consideration was not notifiable to the public and has significantly undermine public trust if exemption from regulation is approved by the EPA.

Null Segregants are genetically engineered (GE) plants that are cross bred so the novel GE constructs are removed but the offspring still express the desired trait change. For example, a GE plant is created for early flowering, a plant that does not show the transgene but inherits the early flowering trait through generational cross breeding is termed a “null segregant”.

There is an assumption by developers that other genetic changes created by the genetic engineering process are of no relevance, but these have been seen to cause harm from off target effects to other genes in the plant/organism.

Though the “null segregant” is tested to see that has not the detectable engineered trait, the speed of change has unforeseen adverse effects, which are not tested for, are able to be inherited.

“Null Segregants are trojan horses which can have unintended genetic changes with a potential to harm the environment, other plants or health,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE-Free NZ in Food and Environment.

An earlier application by Plant and Food to ERMA, now the EPA, for field testing 5 species of the onion family (allium) the project team considered that – GM Allium “null segregants” were classed as GM alliums”.[2]

New Zealand’s Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) that the EPA is bound by, defines plants from genetic modification/genetic engineering as all plants modified, derived from or inherited traits from, through any number of replications, from any genes or other genetic material which has been modified by in vitro techniques.[3]

Professor Heinemann et al (2022) published in Frontiers in Genome Editing concluded that –

“gene technology, even when used to make null segregants, has characteristics that make regulation a reasonable option for mitigating potential harm. Those characteristics are that it allows people to create more harm faster, even if it creates benefits as well; the potential for harm increases with increased use of the technique, but safety does not; and regulations can control harm scaling.”[4]

Further, in 2013 the Sustainability Council appealed a decision to the High Court regarding a ruling by the EPA Authority, against it staff deciding that certain gene editing techniques (Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFN-1) and transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENS)) were exempt from regulation as they had “similarities” to non-GM.

The High court found that the EPA Committee that classified gene-edited plants as chemical mutagens, made an incorrect legal interpretation, and gene-editing techniques are still subject to regulatory oversight. [5]

It is of concern that Plant & Food, who have worked with the EPA and been found in serious breach of controls in previous field trials, are pretending to not know the GE legislation and want to avoid regulation.

The EPA decision yet again goes against New Zealand law. It is time that the EPA must not base its decisions on disregarding the law and bowing to overseas bio-corporate pressure that turns a blind eye to inherent risks of unintended changes from genetic engineering.

References –

[1] https://www.epa.govt.nz/industry-areas/new-organisms/null-segregants/

[1a] https://www.epa.govt.nz/database-search/hsno-application-register/view/APP20417

[2] https://www.epa.govt.nz/assets/FileAPI/hsno-ar/GMF06002/032b3e9af0/GMF06002-GMF06002-EandR.pdf

[3] https://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1996/0030/latest/DLM381222.html

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9871356/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5033166/

 

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