Photo courtesy of Greenpeace, 2013

Whangarei, Far North, and Auckland communities are delighted that the Maori Party have successfully blocked the Government’s attempt to pass controversial changes to the RMA that the Minister Nick Smith wanted to use to destroy valuable GE Free zones.

Northland’s and Auckland’s ability to establish a GM Free food producing zone under local plans has been protected following last minute changes to the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill.

An amendment negotiated by the Maori Party exempts GM crops (including GE trees and grasses) from the scope of new ministerial powers overriding local decision-making.

A further proposed amendment, clause (43A)– snuck in by the Minister Nick Smith without public consultation on the RLA Bill – that would give the minister a second route to impose GM releases on the regions, has been deleted.

GE Free Northland welcomes the change to the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill regarding genetic engineering, but says the change does not go far enough.

“Our councils need to retain their authority and jurisdiction on a wide range of issues, including the right to ban or control any outdoor experimentation or release of transgenic animals. This is necessary given the serious biosecurity, animal welfare issues, and past bungled experiments on innocent animals already undertaken by NZ Crown Research Institute AgResearch*,” said GE Free Northland chairperson Zelka Grammer.

“Details of the AgResearch 2010 GE calf trial (in veterinary reports obtained under the Official Information Act) showed gross deformities, high animal mortality rates, and alarming health problems in the cattle. The animal welfare committee overseeing AgResearch’s transgenic experimentation was miles away from the ethics and values of the community,” said Ms. Grammer.

One of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission into Genetic Modification (2001) was that animals in the food chain should not be used as “bio-reactors.””**.

Although the exemption does not extend to GM livestock, the new ministerial powers do not per se curtail the region’s ability to prohibit livestock farming of GM animals.

The minister of the day would still have to introduce rules that prevent councils from regulating GM livestock farming under their local plans.

“That is a political fight any government would be foolhardy to pick, given the huge backing from the Northland and Auckland food export economy and the wider community”, says GE Free Northland spokesman Martin Robinson.

“Far North and Whangarei District Councils can be confident that the plan rules that protect the district’s GM Free food producer status are safe from interference by the environment minister and s360D,” Robinson said.

Environment Minister Nick Smith’s attempt to hijack communities’ ability to ban or control GM releases in their territories confirms why all councils from south Auckland to Cape Reinga and Hastings District Council strongly opposed the sweeping, inappropriate, and undemocratic powers he sought under the reforms to the Resource Management Act (RMA).

“We are grateful to the Maori Party for helping to protect NZ’s valuable GE Free Zones and food sovereignty,” said Zelka Grammer, GE Free Northland chairperson.

The right of communities to decide was confirmed by the landmark Environment Court decision in 2015 that councils have the power under the RMA to control the outdoor use of GMOs in their regions. The powers that the Minister sought to override our local plans were undemocratic, unnecessary, and have no support outside the National caucus.

“While the result is not as wide as what GE Free Northland and other responsible citizens, councils, and business leaders asked for, it protects the rights of Northland, Auckland and other regions to decide regarding any outdoor GE applications that might come forward in the foreseeable future,” said Ms. Grammer.

We support our local councils’ GMO plan changes and precautionary GMO provisions in the Northland Regional Policy Statement. GE Free Northland has a strong message for the National Party: respect the right of the regions to choose and support councils’ wise, sustainable, integrated planning.

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