By Zelka Linda Grammer
NEW ZEALAND – The Ministry for Primary Industries released the new Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry in August 2017, after putting out the draft NES-PF two years previously.
The new NES-PF (1) gives foresters, councils, and communities national guidelines on how to protect the environment while achieving a sustainable forestry industry (although many submitters would have preferred stronger provisions to protect indigenous trees, wildlife habitats, and ecosystems).
Pressure on MPI did win the day regarding GE trees, the Ministry removing controversial clause 6.4 which was added by MPI at the eleventh hour with no consultation with the NZ Farm Forestry Association, Forest & Bird, and other key stakeholders.
Various councils with precautionary or prohibitive GE policies, foresters, other primary producers, and the public commended removal of the inappropriate clause, which would have permitted planting of GE trees anywhere in NZ and specifically overridden any provisions, policies, and rules of local councils (including in Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, & Hawke’s Bay).
Despite the push by the previous government to undermine the right of the regions to keep risky GE experiments and releases out of their areas (including the unsuccessful recent attempt by National Party Minister “for” the Environment Nick Smith to destroy our valuable enforceable GE Free Zones by amending the RMA), MPI had to back down in the face of nearly 16,000 submissions opposing GE trees and the Maori Party’s requiring removal of the clause.
MPI stated in the final NES-PF that “…it is not appropriate for GM tree stock to be included as a permitted activity in an NES.”
Both the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), global certification bodies for truly sustainable forestry, prohibit GE trees in their certified forests, as does Standards NZ’s “Sustainable Forest Management”
GE trees would greatly increase the risk of transgenic contamination and endanger our biosecurity, unique biodiversity, existing non GM primary producers, our economy, and the public health. Pine pollen travels hundreds of kilometres even at moderate wind speeds, thousands of kilometres with stronger winds. Pine pollen creates allergies, gets into waterways, and is even found in the ocean at depths of more than 10,000 metres. Zespri, Comvita, and other companies with GE free policies do not want their kiwifruit, honey and other products contaminated by GE tree pollen or via other vectors. Organic standards in NZ do not allow any GE contamination, and NZ has a Zero Tolerance Policy for any GE content in imported seeds.
FSC and PEFC do not allow GE trees in their certified forests due to the serious ecological risks, their commitment to the precautionary principle, and market aversion.
Those who have taken the time to get FSC or PEFC certification should not have their livelihoods threatened by risky outdoor use of GMOs. The uncontrolled development and release of GE trees is a dangerous step in the wrong direction, because transgenic contamination of forests and other ecosystems by GE trees is inevitable and irreversible. Trees can live for centuries and have evolved to spread their seeds and pollen over great distances. The impacts of contamination could be disastrous.
Many scientists are also horrified at the prospect of GE trees. George McGavin, curator of Entomology at Oxford University Museum, said, “If you replace vast tracts of natural forest with flowerless trees there will be a serious effect on the richness and abundance of insects and birds. We are talking about vast tracts of land covered with plants that do not support animal life as a sterile means of culturing wood tissue. That is a pretty unattractive vision of the future and one I want no part of.”
Claims by the biotech industry and NZ CRI Scion (who breached even ERMA’s lax conditions of approval for a GE pine field trial at Rotorua) that GE trees would be “sterile” (desirable because of the wilding tree problem) might sound like a good technological fix, but sterility is not guaranteed. Worse, sterility could spread to other species including native trees. Also, GE herbicide resistant trees would exacerbate the current problem by making wilding trees even more difficult to kill. Most of the traits being researched by Scion already exist in non-GE plantation trees already safely planted and harvested in this country.
The EPA’s poor track record to date, the appalling performance of NZ CRI’s who have undertaken outdoor GE experiments to date (HortResearch’s problematic and inadequately contained GE tamarillo trial, Crop & Food Research’s flagrant breach of ERMA’s conditions of approval for a GE brassica field trial, several breaches by Scion including inappropriate disposal of transgenic pine prunings which were required to be autoclaved or incinerated and were instead carelessly left in piles and mowed with machinery which was used in other parts of the property) and MPI’s failure to adequately monitor outdoor GE experiments has hardened public opposition to such experimentation outside the strict containment of the laboratory.
“Good intentions” are not enough, and the regions prefer strict liability provisions and the posting of bonds (to ensure that those who cause “unintended” and “unforeseen” adverse impacts as a result of EPA approved outdoor GE experiments are held accountable for harm caused to other growers or the environment). Scion wasted taxpayer dollars opposing Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s highly sensible precautionary GMO policy in the BOP proposed Regional Policy Statement.
Parliament has now recognised in the RMA that local councils can regulate or ban outdoor use of GMOs in keeping with the wishes of primary producers and other ratepayers. Our ability to establish GM free producing zones under local plans has been shielded at the 11th hour in the Resource Legislation Amendment Act 20179.
We must remain vigilant and continue to protect the right of the regions to create enforceable GE Free Zones, our forestry industry, and our access to key markets and premiums.