GM Free status vital for Hawke’s Bay agricultural economy

Hawke’s Bay’s GM Free status is vital for generating greater wealth from food exports and the region should have the ability to decide whether to retain that status, says the food producer group, Pure Hawke’s Bay.

The Government intends to strip local authorities’ ability to establish GM Free food production zones and for a region’s GM free status to be decided by central government.

The confirmation comes just weeks after the Hastings District Council issued a draft district plan containing rules that would protect the district’s GM free status by prohibiting the release of GMOs. Whangarei and Far North District Councils have also recently announced their intention to prohibit the release of GMOs.

Government says it will strip regions’ ability to rule on GM releases because councils would be duplicating the role of the national regulator, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

Yet the national regulatory regime does not allow Hawke’s Bay or any region to become a GM Free food producer in law.

GM Free status is essential for Hawke’s Bay’s export marketing, says John Bostock.  Yet our producers currently have no certainty under HSNO that we will retain our GM Free status. Hawke’s Bay fields are GM Free now, but that could change should the EPA give the go ahead for GM crops to be planted here.

Councils’ ability to rule on GM releases under the RMA is key to ensuring that Hawke’s Bay can remain GM free in the field.  This is critical when selling to premium markets, and ensures producers’ ability to earn a premium price. That is why Pure Hawke’s Bay producers want local authorities to retain the ability to prohibit GM releases.

The Government has a target of doubling our exports by 2025. This target cannot be met by volume increases alone, it requires higher prices from premium markets, says Bruno Chambers.

The message from Europe, Asia and increasingly the US, is loud and clear: premium buyers and high value markets want GM Free.

“Major food importing companies in the UK and Europe that I represent state categorically that they will not accept any GM product and will immediately cancel all contracts should they become aware that GM products have been shipped”, says horticultural consultant David Cranwell.

Any moves by Central Government to prevent regions from protecting their GM Free status would deprive Hawke’s Bay of these economic gains.

Brands are not built over night, says John Bostock. Accessing premium export markets takes time, and we need to be able to assure our buyers in export markets that our GM Free status is secure.

Our advice to Government is to drop this idea, says Bruno Chambers, and let Hawke’s Bay producers get on with the business of putting the region on the world map as a premium, GM Free food producing region.

There is strong community support for the Hastings District Council and other councils to keep the region’s fields GM free.  A Colmar Brunton poll commissioned by Pure Hawke’s Bay last year indicates 84% of citizens surveyed want the region to remaining GM Free in the field, and 85% want councils to ensure that happens.

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