27 July 2011 Northern Advocate


"North gathers GE free clout"

by Lindy Laird

A Northland environmental group is applauding a move that brings northern New Zealand, from south Auckland to North Cape, closer to being GE-free.

GE Free Northland says with Super City Auckland and Far North District Councils agreeing to work with Whangarei District Council in investigating regulations and responsibilities, the wall against genetically modified organisms (GMO) is strengthening.

In pre-Super City terms that territorial bloc is the equivalent of 10 district and regional councils, and represents one-third of New Zealand's population.

Kaipara District and Northland Regional Councils, which have their own precautionary GE policies, have yet to vote on whether to join the other authorities.

The closer working relationship follows Whangarei District Council recently asking other councils to join in a collaborative plan change to ban GMO until the liability for accident or outcome is clarified.

Whangarei's acting mayor, Phil Halse is pleased Auckland and Far North councils have come to the party: "This reinforces our push to keep the wider region free of GMOs until such time as a truly strict liability regime is put in place and the risks to our biosecurity, farmers and economy are adequately identified and addressed.

"It's certainly food for thought that all the councils from south Auckland to Cape Reinga are acting on their concerns about GMOs," Mr Halse said.

The environment lobby and some territorial authorities have been asking central government for seven years to close the gaps in legislation.

Whangarei has rejected the outdoor use of GMO and in l998 Auckland City Council agreed to outright prohibition in the Hauraki Gulf and Islands District Plan.

GE Free Northland is calling for local government to protect this region's economy and environment by now making appropriate changes to the District Plans, Regional Plan and Regional Policy Statement (RPS).

"We must not risk our existing and valuable GE-free status, especially given the glaring lack of strict liability for any damage resulting from such experimentation," spokesman Marty Robinson said.

Local governments' own precautionary policies are no guarantee against accidents, nor do they answer the question of who pays when things do go wrong, Northland Regional Council chairman Craig Brown said.

In a former term as Whangarei Mayor, Mr Brown spearheaded the district's GE-free lead. He said that although the latest agreement is not in itself change, councils working together could put pressure on central government.

"It's a damn good idea if it brings more and more pressure on the powers that be to ensure that if they set up organisations such as ERMA (the former Environmental Risk Management Authority), they also have to take the responsibility when thing go wrong.

"Sooner or later there's going to be an accident, with no clear mandate for who's responsible for carrying the cost of that."

Ironically, Mr Brown is now the chairman of the council whose members have been unable to agree on toughening up the regional GMO stance. He admits to being "in a tricky position".