“New Zealand will need to change its liability laws if it is to avoid being targeted by developers of more risky GMOs” said Sustainability Council Executive Director, Simon Terry.
“The EU has decided to make GMO operators strictly liable for any damage that results from the use of GMOs” he said.
“Unless New Zealand moves to that standard, it is vulnerable to being targeted for the testing of higher risk GMOs” “One of the main reasons the EU worked hard to get a pan European agreement is that unless each nation set the same liability standards, the riskiest projects will tend to seek out the weakest regulatory regimes” he said.
Mr Terry was responding to yesterday’s release of the Law Commission report on GM liability that threw back to government the important decisions of principle. The Law Commission has said it can not advise on new law until the Government decides to what extent those undertaking GM research “should be held accountable for anything that goes wrong”.
New Zealand has one of the most open regimes in the world such that any company is allowed to apply to test GMOs.
“It is already acknowledged as an attractive research location due to the absence of many diseases” said Mr Terry.
“Unless GM developers bear the full financial risks of GMO release, then someone is paying a subsidy.”
“It will either be taxpayers or innocent victims paying” he said.
“Clearly Europe is not going to subsidise GMO release in this way.”
“The Royal Commission failed to provide analysis to back up its opinion that existing liability law should remain unchanged” he said.
“The Royal Commission recognised that, under existing law, some of the most serious biotechnology risks would end up being carried by innocent third party citizens, farmers and businesses” he said. “That is wholly unacceptable.”
“Those releasing GMOs in New Zealand should not expect to be subsidised by anyone, let alone innocent third parties who suffer damages.”
“Putting the financial risks with the developer⁄operator is a very important commercial discipline.”
It provides the incentive for developers to take due care which in turn reduces the chances of damage occurring in the first place.
“One of the reasons the Sustainability Council has called for an extension of the current moratorium on GMO release is to allow for liability law reform to be completed” he said.
Reference: European Commission, Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and the Council on Environmental Liability, January 2002. The Commission notes that: “This proposal will be presented to the Environment Council … . This will start the legislative procedure at the end of which the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers will jointly adopt the new Directive.”