Genetic resources and living modified organisms
Genetic resources are the genetic material of plants, animals or micro-organisms that have value as a resource for us now, or potential value.
New Zealand’s economy, particularly the agricultural, horticultural and forestry sectors, relies heavily on foreign genetic resources (eg dairy, kiwifruit, pine trees). We also use foreign genetic resources for pest control. For example, we introduce natural enemies (biocontrol agents) like insects and fungi to reduce pest populations among insects or for weed control.
At the same time, there’s growing interest domestically and internationally in New Zealand’s genetic resources. Researchers and scientists are particularly interested in our unique species like native plants (eg, manuka for its antibacterial properties), micro-organisms such as bacteria that can withstand high temperatures, and certain types of algae that have industrial or pharmaceutical applications. In some cases, there’s also interest in matauranga Māori (Māori traditional knowledge).
The Nagoya Protocol holds economic, cultural and environmental significance. It sets out rules about access to genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, and ensures the benefits of using genetic resources are shared fairly. There are implications for countries, organisations and individuals using foreign genetic resources in research and development.
Our Cabinet is yet to decide whether to become a party to the protocol, which came into force in 2014. Key issues that require consideration include how New Zealand regulates the discovery and subsequent use of genetic resources, and protects matauranga Māori.
As the global community's knowledge about the uses of living modified organisms grows, so has the need for new laws and procedures for identifying and managing risks, while preserving the opportunity to benefit from new biotechnologies.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biodiversity. New Zealand became party to the Protocol in May 2005.