MAF extends GM testing for imported seeds

1 August 2002

New protocols to test imported sweet corn and maize seeds for the presence of genetically modified (GM) seeds will come into force on 1 August 2002.

No GM crops are grown commercially in New Zealand and no GM seeds have been approved for release into the environment. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is responsible for preventing unapproved GM seeds being imported into New Zealand. The current testing regime expires on 31 July 2002.

MAF has released a revised import health standard for Zea mays seed for sowing. All consignments of sweet corn and maize seeds for sowing must be tested for the presence of unapproved GM seeds, either offshore or at the border, unless MAF is satisfied that the source country has sufficient systems in place to provide a level of assurance equivalent to testing every consignment.

MAF's Director of Plants Biosecurity, Richard Ivess said MAF is extending its current testing regime to include a wider range of seeds. As well as extending the sweet corn regime to maize seeds from 1 August 2002, testing of canola seeds will start from 1 October 2002, in time for the planting season. MAF will begin discussions with industry with the aim of introducing testing for soybeans from 1 January 2003.

"The purpose of testing is to validate, within the practical limits of testing and sampling, that there is no contamination of the seeds with unapproved genetically modified material. If the testing shows any contamination at all, then the seeds will be rejected," Richard Ivess said.

Seeds imported from countries without commercial production of GM varieties are extremely unlikely to contain GM seeds. These countries' regulatory systems may provide equal or better assurance that their seeds are not contaminated than the assurances provided by testing.

MAF will develop a standard setting out criteria for deciding whether countries are free from commercial production of GM varieties, and have sufficient controls at their borders and over any trials of GM crops, to provide a level of assurance equivalent to testing every consignment. Until then, MAF will consider applications from countries in consultation with other New Zealand agencies and will publish its decisions. Once approved, routine testing of seeds will not be required though MAF may conduct random testing of imports.

"Although some countries do ad hoc testing on imported seeds, New Zealand was the first to develop a systematic approach when it introduced testing last year. We have had to develop our own rules because there are no international guidelines," Richard Ivess said.

"It is also important to recognise that existing seed production systems already provide a high level of assurance that unapproved GM seeds do not enter New Zealand. Many companies also do their own testing for commercial reasons," Richard Ivess said.

The new testing protocol was developed by MAF in consultation with other government agencies including the Environmental Risk Management Authority and the Ministry for the Environment. MAF also consulted widely with the public and industry through its discussion paper released on 6 May 2002.

Information about the new testing regime, including the testing protocols, explanations of MAF's decisions, and information about the submissions received, is available on MAF's web site at www.maf.govt.nz/gmseeds or by contacting MAF directly.

For further information contact:

Brett Sangster, Director Corporate Communications Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry

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