Hawke’s Bay Today: Council view on GM trees awaited

Simon Hendery,¬†Hawke’s Bay Today,¬†August 3 2015

The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has yet to decide if it will join a local growers’ lobby group in opposing a Government policy change that could allow genetically modified trees to be grown in the region.

Pure Hawke’s Bay says the region’s image as a premium food producer is threatened by plans to allow forest plantings using genetically modified tree stock under the Government’s National Environment Standard on Plantation Forestry.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has included a provision in the proposed standard allowing GM tree stock to be planted where it has been approved by the Environmental Protection Authority under hazardous substances legislation.

In a submission to the ministry, Pure Hawke’s Bay says the provision would effectively remove regional councils’ ability to ban GM trees from their regions – and in the case of Hawke’s Bay that would affect the province’s international reputation in overseas markets.

“Effectively, MPI is guessing that GM sterility is more valuable to Hawke’s Bay agricultural economy than maintenance of the region’s GM-free status and marketing and branding campaigns that seek to leverage off that status as high-end food producers,” Pure Hawke’s Bay said in its submission.

“Key markets remain sensitive even to the risk of contamination with trace levels of GM content.”

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council members discussed the forestry standard at a meeting last week and agreed to delegate authority for lodging a submission by the August 11 deadline to chairman Fenton Wilson.

The council’s acting chief executive, Iain Maxwell, said no decision had yet been made on whether the submission on the standard would support, oppose, or remain neutral on the GM issue.

“We’ve got to bat this around our councillors. I would hazard a guess that knowing the make-up of our council – and that there are some pretty staunch supporters there of Hawke’s Bay’s brand – that there will be some quite strong views on this issue,” Mr Maxwell said.

Pure Hawke’s Bay has previously lobbied the Government for a law change to make Hawke’s Bay officially GM free.

The issue was debated ahead of last year’s election when Environment Minister Amy Adams visited the region.

Ms Adams said at the time Hawke’s Bay growers were already able to market their produce as free of genetically modified organisms and she did not support a law change.

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