Northland: War against GMO expected to escalate

Denise Piper, Fairfax NZ News, October 15 2012

Heavyweight genetic engineering companies are expected to object to Whangarei’s plan to ban outdoor use of genetically modified organisms.

At one of its final meetings last week, the outgoing Whangarei District Council agreed to publicly notify proposed plan change 131 which prohibits outdoor releases of GMOs.

It also makes GMO field trials a discretionary activity but allows genetically modified medicines and veterinary vaccines to be used.

The move is the latest step in a lengthy process that started in 2000 when 7000 people signed a petition against GMOs.

GE Free Northland chairwoman Zelka Grammer says she is proud of the work the council is doing. “It’s a fantastic win, so important.”

Despite taking 13 years, she says a slow and steady approach was important to allow Whangarei to collaborate with other councils.

It is a key part of the Inter-council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options, which also includes Auckland Council and the Far North and Kaipara district councils.

The working party has funded a high-level Resource Management Act evaluation (section 32 report), plus a legal opinion, paving the way for plan changes.

All the working party councils have agreed to start the plan change process, apart from Kaipara which is under statutory management.

The councils will work together on their plan changes – pooling expertise and money to fight the expected legal challenges.

Councillor John Williamson expects protests from Federated Farmers and United States GMO crop company Monsanto.

“We will have Monsanto and others coming in and saying what the benefits of GMOs are,” he says.

Opposition has also come from central government, with Environment Minister Amy Adams suggesting she will change the law to ensure local councils cannot control GMOs.

Councillor Phil Halse says Whangarei also has support from Hastings and Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

“It needs to be dealt with locally and this is the way to do it,” he says. “If you’re going to take on the battle you better make sure you take on the battle to win.”

Councillor Crichton Christie says the council’s stand is about risk.

“It’s not about my personal view – I just don’t like it – but it’s about the risk and liability.”

Whangarei District Council is also battling the Northland Regional Council on its approach to GMOs in its Regional Policy Statement.

District living group manager Paul Dell says the regional council has agreed to support a precautionary stance against GMOs.

But he says the statement stops councils having control and is only precautionary over plants.

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