Steps closer to a GMO ban



Denise Piper


Cheers and claps supported Whangarei district councillors as they made a move to ban genetically modified organisms in the district.

At an environment committee meeting last Wednesday councillors unanimously voted to investigate regulating GMOs through the district plan.

The regulation is likely to prohibit releases of GMOs to the environment and requiring resource consents for GE trials.

Whangarei is the first council to agree to regulation but it hopes it will be joined by other councils in Northland and Auckland who are part of the Inter-council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options.

That would mean the costs can be shared. But councillor Crichton Christie says the council will go it alone if necessary.

"This has been eight years in the making. At the end of the day this is about managing the risk that this council has over genetic engineering – it is not about whether you agree with GE or not," he says.

"It would be nice if the other councils came with us but if not we still have to manage the risk."

Environment Minister Nick Smith has confirmed the costs of environmental damage from a GMO release gone wrong could rest with the council and neighbouring property owners.

If the release is authorised by the Environmental Risk Management Authority, the applicant has no liability to pay for any damage.

Mr Christie says the community has told the council it wants GMOs prohibited.

"Seven thousand people put in a petition in this chamber – the biggest submission this council has ever seen."

GE Free Northland secretary Anna Murphy says the council has shown great leadership.

Ms Murphy was one of the people who helped organise the 7000-signature petition against GMOs back in 2000.

She is not surprised at how long it's taken to get this far, with large enterprises being in favour of field trials.

"I'm not surprised because of the pressures from industry. I had hoped that this day would come but there are so many conflicting pressures you never know."

Councillor Sue Glen says councillors will continue pushing the cause.

"I won't back down and I think you can hear the sense in this room that we won't back down – and we will lead this country in one sense or another."

- Whangarei Leader