Biosecurity New Zealand to consult on seed testing protocol

12 June 2006

Biosecurity New Zealand, part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), is consulting on a seed testing protocol for lucerne/alfalfa seed (Medicago sativa), similar to testing already in place for maize, canola and soybean seed.

New Zealand imports lucerne/alfalfa for sowing and sprouting each year from the United States and other countries, and Biosecurity New Zealand has learned that two varieties of genetically modified (GM) lucerne/alfalfa recently entered commercial production in the United States. The varieties contain the gene for resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and several other herbicides. The first harvests in the United States are expected in July this year.

Biosecurity New Zealand Director of Policy Douglas Birnie said there is a risk that future consignments of lucerne/alfalfa for sowing and sprouting produced in the United States could inadvertently contain very low levels of GM seeds.

Biosecurity New Zealand is responsible for enforcing the new organisms provisions of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO). Under the HSNO Act, GM lucerne/alfalfa is classed as a 'new organism' which can not legally be imported or grown in New Zealand.

"So we believe the most responsible course of action is to have sound, prudent measures in place," Mr Birnie said.

"Therefore we are consulting fully with the general public, seed importers and trading partners about developing and implementing a seed testing protocol to detect GM lucerne/alfalfa.

"We welcome feedback from people and groups interested in, or affected by, this proposal. We want to implement this as soon as possible, and people have until July 14 to give us their comments."

Under a protocol, unless equivalent arrangements are in place, importers would be required to arrange and pay for sampling and testing of consignments of lucerne/alfalfa seed at Biosecurity New Zealand-approved laboratories. The protocol would apply to lucerne/alfalfa imported from all countries. Biosecurity New Zealand has developed the new protocol based on other GM tests.

"If any GM seed is detected, the consignment will be denied entry into New Zealand," Mr Birnie said.

Biosecurity New Zealand worked with the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) in developing the protocol, he said.

Media contact:
Keiran Bleach,
Senior Communications Adviser,
Biosecurity New Zealand,
027 435 9662.



Last Updated: 23 September 2010

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