An international understanding restraining the use of techniques to make plants sterile is being challenged by a small group of countries that includes New Zealand. Decisions are scheduled to take place in late March.

The techniques in question involve genetically engineering sterility into plants, and are known as Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs). They are considered to pose significant risks that are as yet poorly understood. The potential effects are sufficiently serious that a consensus recommendation was reached by parties to the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) not to move ahead until the risks are adequately researched.

New Zealand is one of a small group of countries advancing the weakest interpretation of the approach set out by the international community. Many nations are understood to interpret the consensus as requiring that research is completed to the satisfaction of CBD parties before any field trialling is approved. New Zealand, on the other hand, views the resolution as simply a voluntary guideline and is pushing for a “clarification” to be adopted that would instead interpret the CBD position as allowing individual countries to set their own standards as to what is an adequate level of prior research.

Read the report: NZ Position on GM Sterile Seeds