By Guest Author 07/04/2021

The EPA has commenced the 2021 “denewing” of new organisms. Their New Organisms team explain what this means, and ask you to put forward your proposals.

The places we inhabit are shared with thousands of different kinds of organisms. They’re in the trees, flying in the sky, in our yoghurt, under our fingernails, and waiting at the door for us to come home and fill the bowl with their name on it.

An organism is any living thing that has the ability to reproduce, grow and react to stimuli. This includes the obvious things, like animals, plants and fungi, but also the miniscule friends and foes that live alongside us.

But even though there are thousands of organisms that have established a home in Aotearoa New Zealand, there are many more who have not.

Under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act, a new organism is any organism that was not present in Aotearoa immediately before 29 July 1998 (the date the Act came into force for new organisms). It also includes genetically modified organisms, organisms that have been deliberately eradicated from Aotearoa, and organisms with approval to be kept in containment or controlled in the environment.

New organisms are regulated in Aotearoa under the HSNO Act, by the EPA, Ministries and government representatives in parliament.

Denewing – is it even a word?

Classifying an organism as “new” under the Act means that it can then be regulated in order to keep other species (including ourselves) safe. However, sometimes it is no longer necessary for an organism to be regulated, as it is already established in the environment.  It saves everyone time and money to remove its status as a new organism. This process happens periodically, and we call it “denewing”.

For organisms in Aotearoa (basically everything alive other than humans), it is how a new organism subject to rules about its use and import, can become just an organism, in a process similar to gaining residency.

The process to residency for an organism looks at the reason(s) to change its status, whether it has a self-sustaining population here, and if anyone is trying to manage it. In the past, a number of successful candidates have been insects, but they can be any organism, provided it’s not on the prohibited list!

Why denew? The case of the bridal creeper rust and Varroa mites

An example of an organism arriving and establishing in New Zealand is bridal creeper rust (Puccinia myrsiphylli). This rust-like fungi was originally released in Australia in June 2000 to control bridal creeper (Asparagus asparagoides), which is an invasive weed both there and in Aotearoa.

In November 2005 the rust was found in Auckland, infecting bridal creeper plants. Monitoring data from Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research and the Department of Conservation indicated it was highly likely that the fungi became established in Aotearoa, post 29 July 1998, as wind-dispersed spores from Australia. Bridal creeper rust was subsequently one of the first organisms to be deregulated by an Order in Council in 2009. This enables researchers to better investigate the organism without the weight of the regulatory burden.

Another example is the Varroa mite. Despite having a name like a Transformer, Varroa destructor is a small parasitic mite that infects honey bees. It arrived in Aotearoa in the year 2000, having snuck through biosecurity and established itself in honey bee colonies near Auckland. In 2011, the Varroa destructor was denewed, making it easier for scientists to study it and gain knowledge to aid in the protection of bees from the pesky mite. Without the extra admin of having to apply to use the mites in labs, they are free to look further into what makes them tick.

The organism Varroa destructor was denewed in 2011
The organism Varroa destructor was denewed in 2011

Who wants to be “not new”?

To be considered for denewing, is a bit like signing up to join reality TV. We only run the process every couple of years, and so people need to put forward their candidates. Anyone can do it, it’s free, and there is an online form you can fill in to tell us a bit about the organism you want to nominate.

This information then goes to the Minister for the Environment, who gets to pick which organism goes to the next stage in the process. Then the public get a chance to have their say on the selected candidates. Not that it’s a popularity contest; this is a chance for other people to provide information supporting, or disagreeing with the case for denewing. The EPA uses the information sent by the applicants and the public to recommend to the Minister which organism(s) should be denewed. There is no guarantee the status of the proposed organism will be changed, as each candidate is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For those candidates that make it through, the last step is an official declaration of “not new”, a declaration turned into law through an Order in Council.

And that’s it, done. It takes about a year for this process, but then the organisms have full residency. They are free of unnecessary restrictions, and are no longer required to be held within an approved containment facility. However, problematic organisms can still be classified as unwanted by MPI to keep their population under control.

So, do you have a candidate for us?


This article is republished from the Environmental Protection Authority’s Science Corner. Read the original article here.

Header image: CSIRO