Supporters of old 2019 GE/GMO decision by Northland Regional Council withdraw

item from the Northland Age, 16 June 2020, prior to the NRC 16 June 2020 GE/GMO excellent decision later that day

this item for background information:


The Northland Age

"Supporters of council GE decision withdraw"


The Northland Regional Council now stands alone in not supporting the inclusion of GMO provisions in its proposed regional plan.

The NZ Life Sciences Network, Biotech NZ and Federated Farmers have withdrawn from the Environment Court case prompted by appeals against the decision from the Far North and Whangārei District Councils.

The appeals seek the inclusion of provisions to manage genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in the coastal marine area (CMA), which the council decided against last year, on the casting vote of then chairman Bill Shepherd.

The council will decide its next move today, the staff recommendation being to stick to its guns, strategic policy and planning manager Ben Lee saying that would not require a formal decision, given that that position was the status quo.

It was open to the council to change its position, he said, but a decision to do that should be based on sound resource management reasons. His recommendation was to maintain its decision not to include provisions in the plan, and that it actively defend that position in the Environment Court.

Lee's report stated that staff could not advise that the council should change its position, being constrained by the fact that their role was to defend its original decision.

"As with any Environment Court appeals, staff would only consider recommending a significant change in position if there was any new compelling information that challenged the foundations of council's original decision, and to date staff are not aware of any such information," he said.

"Staff therefore recommend council maintain and defend its decision not to include GMO provisions in the CMA."

Lee went on to address the pros and cons of either option, including the possibility that the court would find in favour of the district councils, but retaining the status quo would maintain the integrity of the original decision. An Environment Court decision on the inclusion (or not) of GMO coastal marine area provisions in regional plans would also be of national benefit, while there would be no requirement to change the plan if a GMO that was safe and had significant benefits was to emerge.

Retaining the status quo would also potentially reduce community expectation that the council would be responsible for addressing any unlawful or accidental release of GMOs.

On the other hand, given the lack of compelling new information to support a change of position, agreeing to include provisions could expose the council to criticism that it was taking an unprincipled approach.

Withdrawing from the court proceedings would save the council an estimated cost of up to $80,000, which was unbudgeted.