Rights: The University of Waikato Published 16 March 2010, Updated 13 March 2018 Download

The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act is administered by the Environmental Resource Management Agency (ERMA). Tim Hale discusses what this means for the transgenic cows at the Ruakura farm. He explains the application process and the public consultation that takes places. Also discussed is the importance of on-going monitoring of soil, pasture and groundwater and monitoring for horizontal gene transfer. (Note: ERMA was disestablished in June 2011 and its functions were incorporated into the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).)

2018 update: audits of the Ruakura containment facility carried out by the Ministry for Primary Industries from 2011-2017 confirm and verify compliance with the facility and operator approvals and thereby EPA/MPI Standards, HSNO and CTO approvals.

We are regulated by the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act that is regulated by our Environmental Risk Management Authority, or for short, ERMA, in New Zealand. Well, from the HSNO Act itself, we have an obligation to consult with the local Māori, but also all the applications that we need to go ahead with these research projects is a very public process. So all applications and approvals, they have been publicly notified. And at the same time, of course, it doesn’t stop with the application process. We are very open and have many visitors and groups are coming in.

Through the ERMA approval process, you give an outline of the type of work activity that you’d like to do, but then wherever the facility is, you then consult with affected people as to how they would best like you to mitigate waste products or those type of activities. As part of the approvals process, we’ve had a requirement to monitor for environmental impact, in consultation with local iwi. So what they’re concerned about is whether the genetically modified cows have an impact on either the soil or the environment that they are on. We’ve got a monitoring programme in place for soil, pasture and groundwater, and we’ve also been monitoring for a process called horizontal gene transfer, which is where one of the genes that has been transferred into the cows potentially could be picked up by another organism just through being on the ground. To date, we haven’t identified this process happening.