RMA change would put regions at whim of minister

Hawke’s Bay’s ability to capture a significant marketing advantage hangs in the balance, with Parliament poised to vote this week on whether to preserve the regions’ ability to create GM Free food producing zones.

Opinion piece, Dominion Post, March 4 2017

As any food exporter knows, GM Free is a bottom line in high-value food markets. It’s ripe for the picking for New Zealand producers because no GM crops have been grown here – and hugely valuable for the marketing of our food exports

Many of the world’s most celebrated food producing regions have taken steps to protect their GM Free status, because they know how any association with GM crops would contaminate their valuable brands.

Yet, even as demand for GM Free food skyrockets overseas, environment minister Nick Smith is determined to prevent Hawke’s Bay and other regions from protecting their GM Free status.

The minister wants new powers under the Resource Management Act, so he can quash the GM Free policies that Hastings, Auckland, Whangarei and the Far North have introduced to create opportunities for their local economy.

Rather than listen to food exporters, who know what their markets want, Smith has called GM Free regional initiatives ‘nonsense’.

That’s not how Germany’s economic powerhouse, Bavaria sees it – or the other 63 regions in Europe that are officially GM Free.

South Australia, a state with $18.6 billion in annual revenues from food and wine – doesn’t see it that way either. It has made official GM Free status central to its premium branding strategy.

The minister’s belief that he knows marketing better than Hawke’s Bay food exporters who collectively account for more than a billion dollars in exports simply confirms why he should not be given the powers he wants.

It shows how vulnerable regional economies would be to the whims of Wellington if the environment minister were given the power to override the regions in this way.

It would create huge uncertainty for business, which is why leading New Zealand agricultural industries told Parliament to drop the proposals.

Ultimately, regions should have the right to make decisions that are vital to their economic wellbeing. Whether to remain GM Free is one of them.

Not all regions may want to exercise that option, but it should be their choice.

In Hawke’s Bay, we have strong support from growers and the wider community to protect the region’s GM Free status so we can meet the huge customer demand for GM Free food. Our focus is what is grown in Hawke’s Bay’s productive lands, not medicines or laboratory research.

Hastings District Council – the first council to be approached in the region – is backing the initiative and has introduced rules protecting the GM Free status of the district for the life of the plan.

With more regions around the world protecting their GM free status, we need to do the same to remain competitive.

Food exporters don’t want to have to battle Welington: we have businesses to run and jobs to protect.

We want – indeed, expect – the government to work with us and to accept that we know what our markets want.

Business, councils and the wider community have been loud and clear: the powers are unnecessary, unprincipled and would undermine regional economic initiatives, like ours.

You would expect the minister to hear that message, coming, as it is, from so many quarters. Not so. He has introduced a further RMA amendment that would give him another tool to put an end to Hawke’s Bay food producers’ vision for the region.

Having failed to convince other parties in Parliament, Smith is now looking to the Maori Party to deliver him the necessary votes.

Yet the Maori Party has made very clear it wants regions to be able to create GM free zones, if that is the will of those communities.

It is now for the Maori Party to ensure that these new powers are consigned to the waste bin, where they belong.

That will be good news for food producers in Hawke’s Bay and other regions who want their products to stand alongside the world’s best.

Bruno Chambers is a pastoral farmer and David Cranwell a procurement consultant in Hawke’s Bay.

 

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