The Government is facing another animal welfare challenge - because it will not rely on animal testing to approve a new GM product that has upset an environmental lobby group.

Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye approved a genetically modified soybean in May after 18 months of testing by government agencies. The herbicide-resistant soy can now be imported for consumption but it cannot be used in the cultivation or production of GM foods.

GE Free New Zealand claims the soybean is an untested, potentially harmful product. President Claire Bleakley said the minister failed to protect public health because the product had not been rigorously tested for its effects on humans.

Her organisation also argued that the herbicides the product was designed to withstand were potentially toxic and linked to liver and kidney failure.


"Food is essential for life and it is the minister's duty to protect public health. When you have ... toxic chemicals that have never been tested for human safety you cannot guarantee that they are protecting public health," she said.

GE Free NZ's complaint was heard last week by Parliament's regulations review committee.

Ms Kaye said she was confident in the approval process.

She noted that 57 GM varieties were already imported to New Zealand and Australia, which shared standards for food labelling and composition.

GE Free NZ said previous GM applications had used animal testing to show the product would be safe for human consumption. In this instance, Ms Bleakley claimed that testing agencies had relied on data provided by the applicant and not on animal tests.

"We believe that we should be feeding them to animals, specifically small rodents, on a long-term feeding study."

In its submission, GE Free NZ cited a Brazilian study in which transgenic soybeans had provoked an allergic reaction in some subjects.

The minister said New Zealand was able to opt out of approving a product if it had serious safety concerns.


"The recommendation I had from [the Ministry for Primary Industries] was not to review approval of this genetically modified food.

"This soybean has been assessed and presents no threat or risk to human health. I accepted that recommendation," Ms Kaye said.

The committee will consider the complaint by GE Free NZ. It can recommend to the House that a regulation be disallowed.