10 April 2009

GE FREE NORTHLAND is delighted that Auckland and Northland communities will have an opportunity to air their views on genetic engineering and give their opinion on how the Auckland and Northland councils should deal with field trials and/or commercial releases of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Primary producers and environmental organisations like GE FREE NORTHLAND have praised the innovative work of the Inter Council Working Party.

Staff from seven councils on the Inter-council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options met recently to discuss community consultation. This includes a submission process and a telephone poll for public feedback on the release of GMOs to the environment.

Councils on the Working Party include Whangarei, Kaipara, Far North and Rodney District Councils, Waitakere City Council, and Auckland and Northland Regional Councils. All except the NRC have agreed to participate in, and jointly fund, the consultation exercise.

A legal opinion commissioned by the member councils of the ICWP on GMOs indicates that local government does have jurisdiction regarding GMOs under the RMA and Local Government Act 2002 should the council choose to exercise it.

Local Government NZ shares the concerns of many territorial and unitary authorities about serious unresolved GE issues like liability, ecological impacts, adverse impacts on primary producers and key markets

Recommendations of Dr. Somerville, QC include the advantages of including policy about GMOs and the Precautionary approach in the Long Term Council Community Plan, District Plan and Regional Plan.

GE FREE NORTHLAND continues to share the concerns of Local Government NZ and local authorities about the significant deficiencies in the national regulatory regime for GMOs. “We would like to see GMO land use prohibited in Northland/Auckland peninsula or the moratorium on GE field trials/releases reinstated,” said its spokesperson Zelka Grammer.

“GE FREE NORTHLAND is disappointed to note that the NRC, as the overarching environmental protection authority for the region, is not participating in the collaborative GE community consultation,” Ms. Grammer added.

Despite many of the Northland/Auckland peninsula councils having excellent precautionary or prohibitive policies in their adopted LTCCP’s, ERMA is not required under the HSNO Act and has not yet taken the precautionary or prohibitive content regarding GMOs in councils LTCCP's into account.

“In our view, strong "rules with teeth" regarding GMO land use are needed in the District Plan, Regional Plan and/or Regional Policy Statement to ensure our region retains the economic and environmental advantage of being GM free,” said Ms. Grammer.

In August 2008 the NRC voted to "reconsider its policy position on the outdoor use of GMOs through the pending Regional Policy Statement Review process, specifically the potential use of controls under the RMA in addition to present controls under the HSNO Act." The NRC Regional Policy Statement is due to be reviewed during 2009.

There is currently no liability for damages arising as a result of an activity carried out in accordance with an approval from the national regulator ERMA. There is also no requirement for applicants to prove financial fitness in case of damage and no requirement to post bonds to recover costs should damage occur. Therefore, costs arising from unexpected events and ineffective national regulation will fall on affected parties – neighbouring land users and local authorities.

The recent compliance problems associated with Crop and Food’s GE brassica field trial in the South Island has focused sharply on the ability of Crop and Food and MAF to adequately monitor the trial conditions set by ERMA. The clear breaches of the trial conditions should not have had to be found by GE FREE NZ and Soil and Health. This type of breach calls in question the ability of MAF/Biosecurity NZ to monitor GE field trials or releases in a competent manner. Such problems with NZ Crown Research Institutes continue to be occur. The problematic GE tamarillo trial at Kerikeri in l998 and last year’s inadequate containment of the Scion GE pine tree trial at Rotorua are two examples of incompetence and likely contamination with GE DNA.

"Given that the community ultimately carries the risk of this technology, it is critical that ratepayers and residents have their say”, said Martin Robinson, Chairman of GE FREE NORTHLAND.

“GE FREE NORTHLAND applauds the commitment of local authorities to address the critical GE issue, as central government continues to ignore the concerns of many eminent scientists, territorial authorities and our key markets, as well as the majority of New Zealanders,” said Mr. Robinson.

“It is critical that the interests of local government and ratepayers are protected and the risks of GE addressed. GE FREE NORTHLAND believes the next logical step is achieving enforceable REGIONAL EXCLUSION ZONE status (for GE) for Northland peninsula. Ideally, a shared approach to prohibiting GE activities will be taken by local government on a regional level.”

GE FREE NORTHLAND is currently requesting local government to act on the concerns of ratepayers, working to ensure that the region’s economy and environment is protected by making appropriate changes to the District Plan, Regional Plan and Regional Policy Statement (RPS).

We stress that the Northland/Auckland peninsula is ideally placed geographically to achieve this distinction, which would minimise the economic, environmental, public health and liability exposures from GE release and experiments.