The Forest Owners Association (FOA) says New Zealand should look at genetic technology on a case-by-case basis, rather than persisting with blanket bans.

It wants approval to introduce Douglas fir trees, which can’t reproduce so there's no risk of them giving rise to wilding trees.

Wilding trees are considered “invasive weeds” as they spread without any control, have environmental consequences on native ecosystems, use up scarce water and alter landscapes. 

“The current NZ legislation blanket-ban on genetic technology is outmoded, inconsistent and out of step with much of the rest of the world,” the FOA said.

It said NZ urgently needed to update its legislation.

Genetically modified organisms and technologies are regulated under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO). The genetically modified organism regulatory framework was last reviewed in 2001. 

Forestry Owners Assciation president Grant Dodson pointed to the release of the Te Puna Whakaaronui report on Friday.

Dodson said the report underscores the lost opportunities blocked by the act.

“HSNO is nearly two decades old, and in the meantime how to guarantee the safety of genetic technology has become well known."

Te Puna Whakaaronui, the independent food and fibre sector think tank, said the aim of the report was to provide a neutral information base to enable a shared, informed conversation. 

"It does not make recommendations or advise on a direction of travel, it is a presentation of baseline information," the report said.

It noted that genetic technology had evolved rapidly. Globally, it has been applied across the food and fibre sector to improve the yield, size, taste and nutritional content of produce as well as develop resistance to factors such as disease, pests, drought or salt tolerance.

Also, products developed through genetic techniques are being used more widely for health, animal feed, food and nutrition.

Importantly, it noted, “two decades on and genetic technology has advanced and developed in ways that could not be envisaged in 1996 when the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act was drafted, or in 2001 when the Royal Commission undertook its inquiry".

Several bodies, including the Productivity Commission and the Royal Society, have called for an overhaul of the system. 

Dodson signalled the example in the report where an insect-resistant eggplant in Bangladesh lets the farmers there avoid using dangerous pesticides.

“Our researchers can now target gene rearrangements with technology such as Crispr-Cas9. Years of worldwide experience has shown genetic technology is as safe as conventional breeding.”

Specifically, he said, Scion’s development of a sterile Douglas fir had been stalled in the lab for years.  

“If we could turn off the reproduction mechanism, we could get trees which can’t seed and so no wilding trees would spread," he said.

“At the moment, wilding conifers are a severe 1.8 million hectare problem in this country and getting worse."