Hastings Moves to Secure Market Opportunity For District

Hastings District councillors have taken the first step to securing a significant competitive advantage opportunity for Hastings food producers and farmers by proposing to enshrine GM Free food producer status under the District Plan.

The consultation document released today launches the review of the Hastings District Plan and recommends prohibiting GM releases.

This follows on from a forum hosted by the Hastings District and Hawke’s Bay Regional councils, where Kim Thorp and leading producers such as John Buck made a compelling case for protecting the economic health of our great and varied food producers by ensuring that we respond positively to the demands of our major markets and their end customers.

Premium markets want GM Free. We can deliver this with a gold standard guarantee with the district plan behind us. That would give us the certainty that major buyers like Tesco and Sainsburys are crying out for as their customers continue to demand greater guarantees with respect to GM food. It is critical that we underpin our brand with credible proof points around being GM free.

“It is important that Hastings secures this opportunity for the region,” says John Bostock. “With our rich soils and premium production, this is the food bowl of the country.”

The decision earlier this year by US retail giant Wholefoods to introduce GM product labelling for US customers shows that the preference in premium markets for GM Free is not only holding, but growing.

“Being GM free is the biggest commercial opportunity I’ve ever seen”, says Rupert Ryan, “and the benefits will be huge for the high value produce that the region is renowned for. Why would we take the risk of growing GM crops here when the markets are saying they don’t want a bar of GM?”

“This is a no-risk proposition”, says seed stock breeder Will MacFarlane. “Keeping our fields GE Free for the next ten years keeps every one’s options open. So far, GM has offered nothing to New Zealand farmers, but if, down the line, there is a clear advantage to be gained from growing GM food or feed, we can revisit whether we stay GM Free.”

This proposal will find strong support from growers and the wider community. 84% of respondents in a Colmar Brunton poll commissioned by Pure Hawke’s Bay last year said the region should remain a GM Free food producer and 85% want councils to make sure that happens.

“There is one issue we want stronger action on”, says John Bostock, “and that is GM field trials. We simply don’t want to run the risk. There have been too many breaches of field trials in the past for us to have confidence that Hawke’s Bay producers will not suffer. Fonterra is similarly wary, and does not support field trialling of GM grasses in New Zealand.”

“There is nothing unique about field conditions in the Hastings District”, says Bostock, “and trialling can be done elsewhere, in areas where producers and exporters are less concerned about regional branding.”

Other councils, including Whangarei, are also considering rules to keep their fields GM Free and Hastings has benefited from detailed analysis commissioned by Auckland and Northland councils, which shows that district councils can use the RMA to protect their economies.

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