Crown entity 'cowboys' irk GE opponents



Lindy Laird Monday 23rd August 2010

A spokesperson for GE Free Northland says state-owned "cowboys" with a bad track record are trying to ride roughshod over a Northland council.

Zelka Grammer has voiced her concerns after the crown research institute Plant and Food Research lodged an "11th hour" cross-submission to the Kaipara District Council's District Plan.

Plant and Food's submission argued that a district council should not be involved in decision-making about GE.

It also described as "invalid" the local submissions calling for GE policy to be written into the district plan.

Plant and Food's timing gave parties who had made submissions on the topic no time to lodge cross submissions.

Local submissions asked for the existing precautionary GE policy be set in law, and for liability for any problems caused by GE experiments to fall on the applicants. Kaipara's precautionary GE policy is already in the council's 2009/19 Long Term Council Community Plan (TCCP) and Annual Plan 2010/ll.

Ms Grammer said Plant and Food's last-minute cross submission was both inappropriate and misleading.

"A New Zealand crown research institute with such an appalling track record of botched GE experiments should understand full well why local authorities are considering putting in place additional safeguards against genetically modified organisms," she said.

She also described as "laughable" Plant and Food's claim that GE testing was "properly and adequately controlled under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, via the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA)".

The HSNO Act had serious flaws and gaps in it and, with two major breaches of GE containment in two years, Crop and Food Research (Plant and Food's former body) had one of the worst track records of any CRI in the country, Ms Grammer said.

Northland councils and residents had gone through robust debate and were well informed about the GE issue, she said.

A Colmar Brunton poll indicated 73 per cent of Northland's population was opposed in some way to GMO land use, and 85 per cent of the region's Maori.

"We're very blessed that we've had forward thinking councils and community groups working on protecting our biosecurity, economy and farmers from unwanted GMOs," Ms Grammer said.

Plant and Food was trying to stop local authorities from moving from precautionary policies to "rules with teeth", and also trying to create a crack in the solid wall that councils from Coromandel to the Far North had built to keep GE organisms out, she said.

Auckland City Council had already set a precedent with outright prohibition of genetically modified organisms in its Hauraki Gulf and island district plans since 1996.

Kaipara councillor Richard Alspach, who is a member of the district plan hearing panel, confirmed the council had received a last minute submission from Plant and Food.

Mr Alspach said he was unable to comment on the timing or submission because the council had not yet published its hearing deliberations.

Plant and Food Research's corporate communications manager Roger Bourne said he preferred not to comment on GE Free Northland's criticism.

He said the agency had taken part in the "straightforward and democratic" district plan process.

Mr Bourne said Plant and Food considered the potential introduction of genetically modified organisms to be a central government, not territorial authority, issue, and was already subject to "adequate" control and overview. ENDS