The time has come to question New Zealand's genetic-modification-free "gospel", Government minister Shane Jones says.
"If we as a nation are going to find a solution to make the climate change transition one of equity and justice, then we are going to have to deploy the arsenal of science and technology," he said.
The Regional Economic Development minister's comments come after the Government's Interim Climate Change Committee last week raised concerns laws surrounding genetic modification could be a barrier to lowering farming emissions.
In its response to the report, Cabinet has agreed to look at the overall regulatory environment, including genetics laws, although it has yet to make any moves.
Jones said areas such as forestry could benefit from changes and a review and a debate needed to begin.
"It's either that or stop promising huge growth from science and technology, if we're going to tie one hand behind our back," he told the Herald .
"One of the challenges to the billion-trees strategy is the potential spread of wilding pine. My forest scientists tell me if they had more latitude there may be a way with gene editing to overcome that problem."
Jones has been tasked with reporting back to his NZ First caucus to discuss the policy in coming weeks.
"Let's push the waka out and find out whether or not what we are taking as gospel is indeed still, in this new climate change environment, the gospel we want to believe in," he said.
But he accepts a major question that would confront any probe into the laws would be whether a loosening of the framework would harm the reputation of New Zealand's exports.
Govt needs to look at genetic modification: Shaw
It's a concern that's been echoed by the commission, some farmers and the National Party, who also want a debate.
"Environmental credentials are increasingly a part of what consumers think is important for the food that is produced for them," National's Todd Muller said.
"I think there will be an element of wariness of how much gene technology we could apply and how much, but I think there is a strong willingness to at least have the conversation."
That willingness has extended less to the Green Party, which has long had a tough stance against genetic modification.
Even as he accepted the Government had a responsibility to consider the laws, Climate Change Minister and Greens co-leader James Shaw last week warned anything that endangered the "100 per cent pure" brand would not be worth it, even if scientifically safe.
"The Green Party has no plans to change our policy at this time," Shaw said on Thursday.
The previous Government's Biological Emissions Reference Group had found farmers could reduce emissions by 10 per cent with existing technology in less than a decade, he said.
"Let's use the tools we've already got and get started. We can make some huge gains in a very short period of time, just based on existing technologies. And then let's keep exploring options for the future," he said.
Meanwhile, Environment Minister David Parker, who has responsibility for the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act - the major piece of legislation that governs genetics laws - declined to comment.
But facing questions in Parliament on Thursday, he said New Zealand's approach to genetic engineering had remained unchanged because it had benefited the economy.
"If there was a miracle cure for climate change brought about by a GM crop, I'm sure that any Government would consider it. At the moment, it could be considered under the existing regulatory framework," he said.
The climate commission's report gave an example genetically modified ryegrass developed by AgResearch that may potentially reduce both methane and nitrous oxide emissions from grazing animals, but that was having to be tested in the United States and would not be able to be used in New Zealand under current laws.
"Other countries have changed their rules in recent years and it is not uncommon for livestock overseas to eat genetically modified feeds," it said.
Lobby group GE-Free New Zealand's Jon Carapiet said New Zealand had been well served by its stance and that consumers overseas were increasingly focused on more organic products.
"If New Zealand had the strongest GMO regulations in the world, that would be appealing to a large section of the premium market globally," he said.