Whangarei Mayor backs ban on GMOs

Whangarei District Council Media Release - (11 September 2008)

Whangarei Mayor Stan Semenoff has strongly endorsed calls for the Northland and Auckland Regional Councils to ban field trialling or release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) until all issues surrounding them are resolved.

Whangarei District Council’s environment committee today unanimously supported an inter-council working party recommendation to prohibit GMO trialling and release until liability, economic costs and benefits, environmental risks and cultural/community concerns were satisfied.

The Inter-council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options, comprising Whangarei, Far North, Kaipara, and Rodney District Councils, Waitakere and North Shore City Councils, and the Northland and Auckland Regional Councils, met in July to discuss types and timing of possible releases on GMOs in the Auckland-Northland region. Auckland City Council was unable to attend but remains a member of the working party.

The possible GMOs include transgenic livestock, genetically modified vegetables, rye grass, pine trees, and a genetically engineered vaccine for horse flu.

Within New Zealand, research to date has been confined to laboratories or contained field trials. However, the next stage in the development of genetically modified plants and animals is likely to be pre-commercial conditional releases to the environment.

The Working Party found if the Northland/Auckland region was included in any of these applications, it would effectively be too late for Northland/Auckland councils to prevent the release should it be approved by the national regulator, ERMA. Any chance of the region remaining GE free, until the issues of liability are resolved, would be lost.

Mr Semenoff said there were serious concerns in local government in Auckland and Northland over the release of GMOs and action needed to be taken urgently to prevent their release.

"Central government should have put a stop to any chance of the release of GMOs into the environment nationally until the issues surrounding them are resolved, but it has not had the backbone. If there is a change of Government, I will be sitting on their doorstep wanting action.

"Significant concerns have been raised here, for example herbicide-resistant rye grass getting into our waterways. How would we deal with that?

"Any cross pollination leading to Roundup-resistant kikuyu would have huge implications for our farming industry, and those problems would be specific to Northland as kikuyu does not thrive in southern areas.

"The Working Party has taken the only sensible course in seeking in the meantime a blanket ban on field trialling or release of GMOs for the Auckland and Northland regions," he said.

The Working Party will request that the ARC and NRC insert provisions into their respective Regional Policy Statements to the effect of prohibiting the field trialling or release of GMOs in the Northland and Auckland regions until outstanding issues are resolved.

The Working Party will continue to lobby Central Government, using key eminent persons from constituent councils on the Working Party, to amend the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act to address the concerns of the Working Party, in particular the liability provisions.

At present, there is no liability to the party releasing GMOs to the environment for damage resulting from a release carried out in accordance with an ERMA approval. There is no requirement on applicants to prove financial fitness in case of damage, and no requirement for posting bonds to recover costs should damage occur. Costs will lie with affected parties, both existing land users and councils.

Each political party represented in Parliament will be sent the same set of questions (relating to amending the HSNO Act to address liability) that were sent by the Working Party to the Government in December 2006 to enable a comparison between all political parties before the upcoming elections.

The Working Party, subject to the confirmation of the respective councils, will proceed with a community consultation programme, including a telephone survey, to gauge the level of community support for the management of GMO land uses under the RMA by local authorities at a local or regional level.

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