GM seed border control protocol to take effect

New Zealand Government Media Release

19 June 2001

A new protocol that reduces the risk of unapproved genetically modified (GM) seeds being imported into New Zealand will take effect from August 1, the Minister for the Environment, Marian Hobbs, announced today. The new protocol will apply to all non-GM sweet corn seeds imported for planting.

"There is growing international concern about this issue, as all countries face difficulties detecting unapproved GM seeds," Marian Hobbs said. "The new inspections for imported seeds will provide a high level of assurance that incoming seeds are non-GM.

"The law does not permit unauthorised GM seeds to be deliberately imported or planted, and if GM seeds are detected, the consignment will not be allowed to enter New Zealand."

The protocol is an interim measure for 12 months and will apply only to sweet corn seeds. Sweet corn seeds are imported only between August and December. The Government will develop a new protocol to apply from next year, which may be extended to cover other seeds.

Consignments of sweet corn seeds will be tested at the border for GM presence, unless the producers use an accredited quality assurance system that involves testing for GM presence and additional measures to prevent GM contamination. Reputable seed companies provide a high level of assurance that their seeds are non-GM.

The Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) will accredit assurance systems and set up auditing procedures, including testing consignments at the border.

MAF expects to accredit the main companies by the end of 2001, and audit testing will begin after companies have been accredited.

Marian Hobbs said the greatest difficulty lay in obtaining reliable test results for very low levels of contamination. The limit of reliable detection occurs at a contamination level of somewhere between 0.1 percent and 0.5 percent (between one and five GM seeds per 1000 non-GM seeds). Below these levels, repeated tests produce ambiguous or conflicting results.

"This does not mean that there is an allowance for contamination, but reflects the fact that no test can detect GM material with 100 percent certainty," Marian Hobbs said.

Technology for detecting GM material is still new. As yet, there are no international standards to refer to.

Media inquiries:

Trevor Henry, Press Secretary, Tel 04 471 9131; 025 477 994
Karl Ferguson, Media Advisor, Ministry for the Environment, Tel 04 917 7482; 025 243 7486

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