The High Court has ruled that US multinational Dow cannot intervene in a precedent setting court case concerning whether a new plant breeding technique is covered under New Zealand’s GM laws.

Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals, seeks opportunities to use the new technique to genetically engineer crops and sought to argue this is exempt from those GM laws.

The company applied to join the case as it believes the outcome could have significance internationally.  However, the High Court ruled that the company is barred by statute from intervening, and that in any case, its application was too late.

The case it sought to join has been taken by the Sustainability Council against the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).  The Council is challenging an EPA ruling that would permit the new technique to be used without its effects being assessed by the EPA, or subject to any controls.  The technique is called Zinc Finger Nuclease, or ZFN-1, and Dow has licencing rights to it.

The Sustainability Council believes the EPA has misinterpreted the law.  If the decision is allowed to stand, New Zealand could lose its GM Free Food Producer status overnight without having assessed what is at stake.  The ruling could also pave the way for other new GM techniques to bypass New Zealand’s hard won public protections.

Those laws require anyone who wants to plant a GM crop to first prove that this would benefit New Zealand.  Only if they can demonstrate this in a public process are they allowed to release a genetically modified organism.

No GM plants have been approved for release in New Zealand and it remains a GM Free Food Producer.

The Council sees the ZFN-1 case as part of a wider pattern of GM developers seeking to avoid crops from such new techniques being labelled as GMOs.

ZFN-1 is sufficiently new that few countries have ruled whether it is GM under their regulations.  Were anyone to plant ZFN-1 crops in New Zealand, companies exporting into markets that recognise the new technique as GM could suffer serious economic damage.  Exports could be rejected if there was physical contamination and brands could be hit simply because of a perception that products are no longer GM Free.

Barristers Dr Matthew Palmer and Felix Geiringer are acting for the Council before the High Court in Wellington.  The hearing is scheduled for 6 and 7 November 2013.


See the coverage in the New Zealand Herald.