Protest over plans to end regions right to be GMO free

Hawke’s Bay premium food producers have accused the government of a “back door” move to strip regions of the power to stay free of genetically modified organisms.

ROB STOCK, Stuff, August 2 2015

New Zealand’s pure image boosts produce growing exporters to earn a premium in global markets for their fruit, veges, wine and food.

But some believe this is now threatened by a draft regulation which would end councils’ right to ban GMO trees from their patch.

The proposed National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry, drafted by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), means that once the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) had approved a genetically-modified tree-type for planting, no council could prevent it from being planted in their areas.

In its submission, Pure Hawke’s Bay, a lobby group of produce, wine and food exporters, said staying GMO-free was key to preserving and developing the region’s brand as a premium, natural food-producing region.

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

It said MPI had failed to provide a cost/benefit analysis that would justify curtailing the power of councils to ban GMOs. “Specifically, the Ministry has confirmed to Pure Hawke’s Bay that is has undertaken no analysis of… the economic implications” of the plan, it said.

Government-owned research institute, Scion, was trying to genetically engineer sterile plantation trees, which would prevent the spread of “wilding” pine – trees which reproduce themselves in unwanted areas – Pure Hawke’s Bay said.

It but added: “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.”

Stephanie Howard from the Sustainability Council said the Government had hoped to remove the regions’ power to ban GMOs under reforms to the Resource Management Act, but it had not been able to get the support it needed.

Doing it by regulation meant Parliament would not be able to debate the move, Howard said.

John Bostock, who heads a $120million a year produce export business in Hawkes Bay, believes regions should have the power to stay GMO-free. “In the space of pure, clean, natural, absolute premium, New Zealand has a real competitive advantage,” he said.

Bostock said crops contaminated by GMOs, for example by GMO pine pollen, would cost them their clean, green premium, which could halve the price some crops fetched.

David Cranwell, wine and fruit producer and exporter, said taking power from regions was worrying as the Government negotiates on the TPP international trade deal. “This is all linked to make it easier for central government to bring all the regions into line with TPP,” he said.

The proposed regulation came originally from the Forest Owners Association, a lobby group of mainly multi-national forestry corporations which own New Zealand’s forests.

In August 2013, a survey of 1000 people nationwide she organised with Colmar Brunton found 83 per cent wanted New Zealand to be GM-free, and 79 per cent said that regions should be able to choose whether they wanted to stay GM-free.

 – Stuff

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