It Must Be GM-Free, Minister

Talking Point, Hawke’s Bay TodaySeptember 1 2015

For Hawke’s Bay food exporters, GM Free means serious business.

If more signals from the marketplace were needed to underscore this, then recent developments in Europe couldn’t be clearer.

Europe’s economic powerhouse, Germany is preparing to ban GM agricultural releases in its productive lands. Across the North Sea, Scotland is heralding a similar move. Political leaders there describe the stance as protecting Scotland’s “global reputation for the beauty of our natural environment and for the excellence of our food and drink produce”.

“It would be foolhardy“, they say, “to jeopardise our unique selling point especially at a time when many around the world remain sceptical about the benefits of GM.”

Scotland and Germany’s announcements are not isolated events, but part of a sustained trend: regions and entire countries increasingly realise the economic benefits of keeping their food production GM free and are regulating to secure that.

That is why Hawke’s Bay food producers want to protect the region’s GM Free food producer status.  GM cropping simply has no place in premium markets – our customers demand GM Free. And we believe that regional GM Free status (not just individual, GM Free product lines) will become a preqreuisite in premium food markets around the world.

Given this stark market reality, Minister for the Environment, Nick Smith’s stated desire to strip Hawke’s Bay councils of the ability to keep our fields free of GM crops is hard to fathom.

It goes against the clear and sustained tide of market demand for GM free produce.

Indeed, while the Minister has been attempting to remove opportunities to position Hawke’s Bay as a GM Free food producing region, another arm of government is busy using GM Free as a selling point for New Zealand products.

In June, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise told New Yorkers at an exclusive food show that “New Zealand creates and nurtures only the best of the best: Non-GMO, grass-fed, hormone-free meat and dairy products.”

So far, the Minister has not been able to get enough support from Parliament to change the RMA to prevent Hawke’s Bay food producers from protecting our GM Free status. That should tell the Government something.

Instead, the Minister is now proposing to bypass Parliament to get some of that agenda through. He wants to strip us of the right to manage the risks of GM plantation forestry in Hawke’s Bay using a national environmental standard.  Many Hawke’s Bay food producers oppose that move because detection of GM pine pollen on our produce could be commercially devastating.

By taking this backdoor route, the Minister does not need to convince Parliament that the move is in the country’s or the region’s best interests.

The Government’s desire to support GM developers at the expense of food producers is surprising. Despite years of government and private funding, not a single GM product has materialised that benefits Hawke’s Bay food producers and is accepted in premium markets. That doesn’t look set to change any time soon.

Market attitudes to GM foods are hardening. So to align with overseas consumers – who don’t want a bar of GM – it is vital that we maintain our GM free status and grow our presence in high-paying markets.

The Hawke’s Bay community understands this.  Around 85% of Hawke’s Bay residents Colmar Brunton polled in 2012 believe the region should remain a GM Free food producer in the field and want our councils to protect that GM Free status in the local plans.

Hawke’s Bay food producers want to work with the Government to grow our economy and to play our part in achieving the Government’s ambition to double the value of New Zealand primary exports by 2025.

In that spirit, we urge the Minister, who is visiting the region today, to drop his plans to prevent us from protecting Hawke’s Bay’s status as a GM Free food producer.

Let us make that call, so we can put Hawke’s Bay on the map as one of the world’s outstanding food producing regions.

Bruno Chambers, Scott Lawson and David Cranwell

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