Genetically modified seeds

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have had their genes or genetic material modified by 'in vitro' techniques. No genetically modified seeds have been approved for release into New Zealand, so we have strict import rules to ensure no unapproved GMO seeds arrive in the country.

No GM seeds can enter New Zealand

It is illegal to import GM (genetically modified) seeds for sowing into New Zealand without approval from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). GMOs are classed as new organisms under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996.

No GM seeds have been approved for release in New Zealand, which means we have strict rules around seed and grain imports to make sure unapproved GM seeds don't arrive in the country. MPI is responsible for enforcing the HSNO Act at the border, through the Biosecurity Act 1993.

Consignments of specific seed species must be tested for the presence of genetically modified seeds at one of our approved laboratories before being imported. If the import health standard (IHS) says your seed species must be tested, then you need to arrange to have this done before your imported seeds arrive in New Zealand. The testing certification must accompany your consignment.

Download the Import Health Standard for seeds for sowing [PDF, 2.2 MB]

Laboratories for GMO testing

These laboratories are accredited by MPI to test for genetically modified organisms:

All the accredited laboratories are approved for testing:

  • Brassica napus var. oleifera (oilseed rape/canola)
  • Glycine max (soybean) – except DTS Food Laboratories
  • Medicago sativa (lucerne/alfalfa)
  • Zea mays (sweet corn and maize)
  • Cucurbita pepo (squash)
  • Gossypium hirsutum (cotton)
  • Linum usitatissimum (flaxseed/linseed)
  • Petunia spp.

Specific seed testing requirements

The protocol for ensuring plant material does not contain GM material was updated on January 1, 2016. In particular, it updated the requirements for Zea mays and Glycine max.

The protocol outlines the precautions seed importers must take to ensure their imports do not contain GM material. Precautions may include:

  • buying seed produced under a quality assurance system – such as field isolation
  • testing for GM presence throughout the production chain.

Importers must take reasonable steps to make sure their goods comply with the HSNO Act and the seeds for sowing IHS. Not complying with these protocols may mean your consignment isn't cleared for entry and your goods will be reshipped or destroyed at your cost.

Download Protocol for testing for the presence of genetically modified plant material [PDF, 681 KB]

What is genetic modification?

Section 2 of the HSNO Act defines genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as any organism in which any of the genes or other genetic material:

  • have been modified by in vitro techniques, or
  • are inherited or otherwise derived from any other genes or genetic material that has been modified by in vitro techniques.

In vitro techniques refers to using test tubes, cell culture plate or other methods outside a living organism.

Who does what?

MPI is responsible for enforcing the HSNO Act at the border and ensuring no unapproved genetically modified seeds enter the country.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) handles applications for permission to import GMOs.

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) administers the HSNO Act.

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about the information on this page, email

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