Pressure building to shut out GMO crops

More district and regional councils are poised to fence out genetically modified organisms (GMOs) following a recent Environment Court decision.

The court upheld the right of Bay of Plenty Regional Council to take a precautionary approach to the growing of genetically modified crops in its region.

The ruling came as submissions closed on a similar proposal being considered by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.

Further north, mediation is due to start on the Northland Regional Council’s policy statement on GMOs, which also aims to enable councils to take a precautionary approach over the planting of such crops.

The council, iwi, and groups including GE Free New Zealand are squaring off against Federated Farmers in the mediation.

Federated Farmers is disputing the need for council regulations to include precautionary regulations on GMOs when there are already regulations in central government legislation through the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act.

A section of that act requires consenting authorities to practice caution in managing adverse effects of technology where uncertainty exists.

However, groups including GE Free NZ have challenged the robustness of the HSNO precautionary approach. It has called for councils to drive greater robustness into the process through their regional or district plans.

Northland horticulturalist and GE Free spokeswoman Linda Grammer said that in 2003 Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), councils and other groups had sought greater enforcement regulations around GMOs.

“However, the changes sought were not made and past approval of GMO release for trials appears to have been almost a rubber-stamp exercise.”

She said her group was particularly perturbed by the run of GMO breaches that have occurred following those approvals, including the brassica breach at Lincoln in late 2008 and the one involving GM fungi last year, also at Lincoln.

Grammer said the Feds were running counter to a strong desire of ratepayers for districts to have greater control over what organisms could be released in their districts.

“The Auckland super city wants tighter controls and it is in that council’s unitary plan. In many cases they are legacy zones that were there before the super city was formed.

“Nelson city is also under ratepayer pressure to turn a symbolic GE-free zone into something more legislated.

“I can see a domino effect here, with councils watching eagerly what the outcome has been in the Bay of Plenty and up here in Northland.”

Despite accusations by GE Free NZ the Feds were pro-GMO, president Bruce Wills has stressed his concern was over a doubling up of legislation.

“We do already have an Environmental Protection Authority, which has a large number of scientific experts,” he said.

“As Minister for the Environment Amy Adams has said, it is perplexing that a double level of regulation is being sought.”

Wills questioned the ability of regional or district councils to police any GMO-free status determined under local legislation.

“If the Waikato was to grow genetically modified maize and it got into the Bay of Plenty, how do they police and monitor that?”

He said the Feds’ concerns focused on the layering of legislation, rather than being pro or anti-GMO.

“We do need to be careful we do not legislate science out altogether. Some problems are being solved through GMOs, like cotton crops in Australia requiring less spray than non-GMO crops.”

LGNZ president Lawrence Yule said his Hastings District Council wanted to pass the legislation on GMOs to preserve its Pure Hawke’s Bay brand.

“This consists of a group of growers at both a corporate and artisan level who have decided we want to be able to claim to be the food basket of Australasia and no one has challenged us so far on that.

“We have a number of Australian firms that have relocated here for produce production.”

Yule, who is Hastings District Council mayor, said the regional council was still to come on board with the GMO legislation.

“But at the end of the day we felt we had to start somewhere, so we started with the district council.” release of

Prospects for GMO species like grasses was low in the next 10 years and there was little downside in the move to preserve the GE-free status, he said.

Farmers Weekly, March 3 2014

Richard Rennie © NZX Agri 2014

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