24 Nov 2020

Biotech sector report calls for genetic modification rules review

11:21 am on 24 November 2020

The biotech sector wants the government to review the rules around genetic modification saying the restrictions are holding the industry back.

No caption

Photo: Royal Society Te Apārangi

A landmark report on the sector predicts the industry could be worth as much as $50 billion.

However, the Aotearoa Boosted by BioTech report pulls together a raft of constraints and challenges identified over the last decade, that need to be overcome before this can happen

A burgeoning part of the wider technology industry, BioTech mainly innovates out of the primary sector but is also popular in health, industrial and environment.

One of the report's authors and the executive director of BioTech New Zealand Zahra Champion said while science set up the sector for growth, there were commercial issues that needed to be overcome.

"We're very good at the ideas, we've got some great ideas that are sitting with our CRIs [Crown Research Institutes], universities and within new Zealand companies but the challenge is around scaling up.

"We're seeing a lot of growth and trying to get highly skilled staff into the roles has been a challenge."

The report pinpointed capital access, strict genetic modification regulations and access to skills as the main constraints to growth.

It said increased public discussion and understanding about GMO (genetically modified organism) "fuelled by facts and not fake news" was required and this included a review of the current legislation.

The BioTech sector is small but growing. It includes 211 companies with a combined annual revenue of $2.7b.

Champion said there was huge potential for New Zealand BioTech companies.

"We talk about the global market could be worth $729b, and this report comes up with $49.4b for the New Zealand sector ... that's a big big number but that's because BioTech underpins every part of our life.

"There is a lack of understanding or lack of knowledge that BioTech plays a huge role in our day-to-day lives."

In addition to the GMO recommendations, the report recommended creating a co-ordinated strategy and increased visibility for the sector, better efforts to scale up and commercialise ideas, and better connections with Māori.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs