Bay producers want to be able to compete
Hawke's Bay Today, January 19 2017

Just before Christmas, the Maori Party took a stand that is hugely important for Hawke's Bay.

The party told Environment Minister Nick Smith it does not support giving him new powers under the Resource Management Act (RMA) - if he could use them to outlaw GM Free Food production zones.

The Maori Party's stance is critical. Smith's power grab would stop Hawke's Bay from accessing opportunities to increase the brand value and reputation of the products we export. And the Maori Party is now all that stands between the regions and the minister having his way.

Smith's continued opposition to GM Free food producing zones is unfathomable, given the clear economic benefits of a GM Free status and our community's overwhelming support for this position.

Market demand for GM Free food is booming. In the past 12 months major food companies - including Danone, Mars and General Mills to name just three - have launched branded GM Free products. This trend is only accelerating.

Many regions around the world are officially GM Free and use their GM Free status to woo consumers to take their products over others. Hawke's Bay producers simply want the ability to compete on equal terms with these top of the line growers.

GM free status embraces innovation that the market place wants. GM simply doesn't fit that bill.

And to be clear, the issue is release of GM plants and animals on the land - not medical treatments.

The minister, however, has tried to exploit a clause in Auckland's plan - which might inadvertently capture some GM medical treatments - to justify his ambition to ban GM Free zones.

This is a red herring. All councils have made plain that they don't want to regulate GM medical treatments and want national regulators to have responsibility for these. We understand that Auckland intends to clarify its plan to remove any doubt on that front and that other councils will follow suit.

Having failed to convince Parliament that regions should be prevented from creating GM Free zones, the minister is now attempting to achieve his solitary agenda by acquiring executive powers so he can bypass Parliament.

The powers he wants the Maori Party to support - set out in s360D of the latest bill to change the Resource Management Act - are effectively a Trump Card.

While the minister will have to do more than tweet policy, he will be able to override Hastings' official GM Free status with relative ease - even when our community has invested considerable time and effort weighing up what is best for our land and economy.

Efficient regulation is crucial for business. But the minister's bid for increased power over the regions has nothing to do with efficiency: it is pure political expediency. Smith simply wants the power to quash initiatives that he doesn't like.

The new powers would create real uncertainty for business. That is why some of New Zealand's leading agricultural bodies told Parliament to drop them.

A key parliamentary committee also recommended that the minister properly justify the need for Wellington to have such power over the regions - or delete them.

Smith has failed to make the case and every other party has rightly rejected the powers as undemocratic and unacceptable.

Smith risks creating an expensive sideshow for the Government, when changing the RMA is slated as fundamental to its plan for dealing with Auckland housing.

Defending our region's ability to be GM Free in law has been a long and unnecessary fight, given that the position makes perfect economic sense for our high-value food producing region. It also keeps options open for Hawke's Bay producers to review our position down the line, if market attitudes change.

The minister has come to the end of the road and needs to drop his senseless war with the regions on this issue. He must simply accept that Hawke's Bay food producers are well placed to know what is optimal for our economy where GM is concerned.

Then, finally, we can get on with creating value for local business and for Hawke's Bay's reputation in the global marketplace.

- Bruno Chambers is chairman of Pure Hawke's Bay