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Conservative insurance approach not unusual

Environment Minister Marian Hobbs says the attitude taken by an insurance company over genetic modification is unsurprising as it reflects the relative "newness" of the technology in New Zealand.

"Insurance is based on past history," Marian Hobbs said. "There is no past history in New Zealand and limited information elsewhere in the world for GMOs. Therefore it is not unusual for the insurance industry to be conservative in offering insurance cover on an innovation where they have no information about what sort of financial exposure they might have. This is not a condemnation of GM but simply a reflection of the relatively new status of the technology."

Marian Hobbs said the new extended liability rules contained in the New Organisms and Other Matters Bill have been designed to strengthen incentives to comply with the HSNO Act.

"This applies whether the new organism is genetically modified or not," Marian Hobbs said.

"Anyone who causes injury to any other person, or damage to property through their use of a genetically modified organism can still be held liable for that damage, whether or not they are insured. If people are harmed by a GMO, they can bring legal action for compensation under normal common law rules. In addition, the new strict civil liability rule enables individuals to seek compensation for harm caused by activities involving new organisms that breach the HSNO Act without needing to prove negligence."

Marian Hobbs said she has been advised that some insurance companies may provide insurance cover for GM activities, but they may be reviewing their policies.

"The expert independent regulatory authority - ERMA is required by law to assess all possible adverse effects of the release or conditional release of GMOs on human health and the environment on a case-by-case basis," Marian Hobbs said.

"Their assessment will include, for example, the impacts of a GM vaccine, which is or contains a living bacteria or virus, and the potential for that bacteria or virus when excreted by the animal to have adverse effects on the soil.

"If there is any possibility of significant adverse effects on the environment or human health then ERMA will not approve the application for release or will impose strict controls on the conditional release."

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