new National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry, 16,000 Kiwi submittors say NO to GE trees

new National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry

by Zelka Linda Grammer

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) released the new Environmental Standards (NES) for Plantation Forestry in August 2017, after putting out the draft NES-PF two years ago.

The new NES-PF (1) gives foresters, councils, and communities clear 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).

Severe pressure on MPI resulted in the agency removing a controversial clause 6.4 (GE trees), which was added at the eleventh hour with no consultation with the NZ Farm Forestry Association, Forest and Bird, and other key stakeholders) from the new NES-PF.

Various councils with strong precautionary GE policies, foresters, and other primary producers welcomed the removal of the clause that would have permitted the planting of GE trees anywhere in NZ and specifically overriden any precautionary or prohibitive GE policies and rules of local councils (including those of Northland, Auckland, and Hawke's Bay).

Despite the push by the former government for risky outdoor GE experiments and releases (including the unsuccessful recent attempt by Minister Nick Smith to destroy valuable enforceable GE Free Zones (2) by amending the RMA),  MPI backed down in the face of 16,000+ submissions opposing the GE tree clause and the Maori Party  requiring removal of the clause.

MPI states in their analysis (point 3.6.2) that  “… it is not appropriate for GM tree stock to be included as a permitted activity in an NES.” (3)

GE trees, if introduced, would have greatly increased the risk of transgenic contamination. Ordinary pine pollen travels hundreds of kilometres even at moderate wind speeds, thousands of kilometres with stronger winds. (4) Pine pollen creates allergies, gets into waterways, and is even found in the ocean at depths of more than 10,000 metres. (5)

Both the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), global certification bodies for truly sustainable forestry, do not allow GE trees in their certified forests, due to the serious ecological risks, their commitment to the precautionary principle, and market aversion.(6)

Those who have taken the time to get FSC or PEFC certification should not have their valuable enterprises threatened by risky outdoor use of GMOs.

All the councils from Auckland to Cape Reinga and Hastings District Council have put in place a much needed additional tier of local protection against the risks of outdoor use of GMOs. 

Additional local protection is necessary given serious deficiencies in the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act, as identified by Local Government NZ, many councils, mana whenua, and primary producer boards. 

Parliament has now recognised in the RMA that local councils can regulate or ban outdoor use of GMOs in keeping with the wishes of farmers and other ratepayers. Our ability to establish GM free producing zones under local plans has been shielded following changes to the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill back in April (the Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 was passed in April 2017).

Fonterra, NZ Beef & Lamb, Dairy NZ, Pure Hawke's Bay, Local Government NZ, various councils, primary producers, and many others called for protection against Wellington imposing risky GE experiments or field trials in the regions, including those involving GE trees.

The right of the regions to create enforceable GE Free Zones and our access to key markets and premiums must be protected. 

It is gratifying that we have a capable new Prime Minister who understands the importance of truly sustainable primary production and protecting the environment.   GE Free Northland will be working with the new Minister of Forestry (Shane Jones) will ensure that we look after and make use of the steep marginal land we have, which should be in forests rather than erosion causing activities that silt up waterways and estuaries. Planting trees will make a huge difference, reducing New Zealand’s net carbon emissions.