I use the word "supposedly" because David Parker MP, who was delegated to look into the matter after the election, concluded, (to the satisfaction of National and the Green Parties as well as the Labour Government) that it was never proven that genetically modified materials had been released and that there had been no cover-up.

This issue blew up when John Campbell ambushed Helen Clark with it during a TV3 interview.

This interview preceded a sudden, precipitous drop in support for the Labour Party (as revealed in its overnight polling) the like of which I've never seen in very many election campaigns.

It is possible that the stratospheric support for the Clark Government was always going to partly evaporate in the heat of the election campaign, but there is no doubt that there was a general revulsion at the thought of genetically engineered organisms polluting New Zealand's clean, green self-image.

If Nick Smith's oafish dismissal of the very well organised GM Free Hawke's Bay lobby takes root in public awareness, National risks the same result as Labour got when the issue took hold 15 years ago.

It's worth looking at GM Free Hawke's Bay's excellent website at www.purehawkesbay.org.

The proponents of GM free Hawke's Bay include some of the province's top businesspeople. They could not be written off as dope-smoking, sandal clad tree huggers.

The fact that Hawke's Bay is GM free amounts to a huge advantage in the most profitable markets.

This is especially true in Europe where many major outlets for our products - fruit, vegetables, wine, meat, dairy etc simply will not touch any product containing GM materials or in any way associated with them.

In China, a massive and growing market, consumer preferences are just the same.

The sheep farmer who appeared on Sunday and argued that GM grass could defeat drought obviously hadn't twigged that the mutton and lamb that fed on that GM grass would be unsaleable, at least at any price he'd accept.

Dr Smith is responsible for getting a new version of the Resource Management Act through Parliament as Minister for the Environment and he wants to subtract or override the right of local councils to declare their territories GM free.

At the time of writing, this process is held up by the GM issue with Nick Smith putting heavy pressure on the Government's support parties - Act, United Future and the Maori Party to fall into line.

It's high time that Bill English realised that his old mate, Nick Smith, is a major liability.

Smith's coarse, boorish behaviour in front of a normally supportive group which included a National Party candidate running in a marginal electorate reeks of an arrogant, born-to-rule, been-in-too-long attitude that could all too easily bring Mr English's Government down.

The first syllable of popularity is 'pop' and as I found in 2002, that's exactly what can happen.

Smith wrote a thesis on landslides of the seismic type. His egotistical conduct invites one of the political variety.

Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.

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