Hawke’s Bay Today, Doug Laing. September 13 2015

The food industry in Hawke’s Bay was ready to party last night after confirmation the Hastings District Council has become the first local body in New Zealand to block genetically modified food production.

Industry leader John Bostock showed all the enthusiasm of a province winning the Ranfurly Shield when he said last night: “We are so excited. It’s a wonderful thing.”

The ban comes in new Hastings District Plan rules, prohibiting release and field trials of GM crops and animals in the council area. Mr Bostock says food producers in the area can now brand their products as grown in a GM-free food producing area.

He and others who formed the campaign lobby Pure Hawke’s Bay have been fighting for at least 15 years “because it will bring huge benefits to Hawke’s Bay”.

Food production is being driven more and more by the “clean, green and pure” image, he said.

“That’s the space Hawke’s Bay is in. We’ve put a lot of effort in, produced a lot of evidence, and I think the council was persuaded by that.”

The rules match steps already taken in South Australia and Tasmania, and 21 regions in France and 16 in Italy, including the renowned food production and fine cuisine territories of Tuscany, Provence, Champagne and Burgundy, to help them secure premium markets.

Pure Hawke’s Bay says several European countries – France and Italy along with Germany and Scotland – have all announced they will prohibit GM crops.

In a commissioned survey in 2012, 84 per cent of respondents wanted Hawke’s Bay GM-free and stud farmer and Pure HB member Will MacFarlane said: “Hastings food producers can make the same guarantees to overseas buyers as these world-class food producing regions.”

Vegetable grower Scott Lawson said: “This is a win-win for Hastings and the wider region. We can secure our valuable GM-free status at little cost, with major economic and reputational upside. Returns for premium products are strong and growing,” he said.

“This added value for our producers reinforces the view that Hawke’s Bay’s economic prosperity lies with premium, uniquely pure and GM-free exports.”

But the Hastings district may not hold its unique position in New Zealand for long, with Auckland, Whangarei and Far North councils all considering similar rules.

The Hastings decision flies in the face of National Party Government reluctance to allow councils to create such zones, and threats to introduce law changes. Earlier this year, the Environment Court confirmed regional councils had the right to make planning decisions about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) under the Resource Management Act.