GMO-free policy not in North's draft air, water, soil, coast plan






There could be a small break in the ring fence meant to keep genetically modified organisms out of Northland's environment and primary sector.

The decision has groups who vehemently fought for 10 years for that GMO-proof fence now criticising the Northland Regional Council's decision to exclude its strong Regional Policy Statement (RPS) on GMOs from its proposed Regional Plan.

A year after no-to-GMO policies became operational in Whangārei and Far North Districts' and NRC legislation, the NRC failed to copy over its stance to its new environment plan.

The overarching Regional Plan — the draft of which received 360 submissions overall — will encompass, replace and update three outdated water and soil, air and coastal plans. More than 100 of those submissions referred to the GMOs subject.

The many groups who fought for a regional precautionary policy about GMOs are also flummoxed by another NRC decision, to winkle out submissions on the topic and treat them differently to all others.

They will be heard by the council itself instead of by the independent panel of commissioners which has been hearing all other Regional Plan submissions. That resolution was made by the council in March.

NRC policy development manager Ben Lee said the council decided not to include the GMO policy at the time the proposed regional plan was released, as a Federated Farmers NZ case against Northland's RPS hadn't been resolved in the Environment Court.

''The council thought that it would be inappropriate,'' Lee said. ''Council realised it was legally obliged to consider the GMO but had to make a decision by default.''

Principal Environment Court Judge Newhook's decision on that court case was released in April, with FFNZ soundly losing.

Lee said the decision to exclude the GMO policy from the draft plan was also made because the current council had not been through workshops to bring newer members fully up to speed with the complex issues.

Whangārei and Far North District Councils, both with their own GMO-prohibiting policies, have made joint submission against the NRC's proposed regional plan.

Whangārei District Plan policy and monitoring team leader Melissa McGrath said the council was seeking for the NRC's regional plan to be made consistent with WDC's District Plan GMO provisions.

In response to some suggestions it was wrong to exclude the RPS policy on GMOs in the first place, and also sideline submissions relating to it from the commissioners' role, Lee said: ''In [the] council's view, it is very legal.''

Asked if there could be a gap in the region's GMO-proof fence should the NRC not add its policy to the new Regional Plan, Lee said the council felt there was already a level of security via the Government's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) which had to approve any GMO field tests.

That faith in the EPA level of scrutiny has also been the basis of the costly Federated Farmers court cases objecting to territorial authorities having their own precautionary GMO statements and policies.

GE-Free Te Taitokerau/Northland chairwoman Zelka Grammer said the NRC should be ''obliged'' to include its policy statement against GMO experimentation and use in reviews of any plans.

"Not only is the NRC's March 2018 resolution to sideline the NRC hearings panel of independent commissioners only on the GMO issue highly questionable, many Northland primary producers, whose valuable enterprises need protection from GE contamination, have little faith in the EPA," Grammer said.

The Regional Plan would be the over-arching document of protection for the essential environment - air, soil and water - and the GMO statement should be embedded in it, she said.

The GMO-related submission will be heard by the full NRC council on October 30/31. (corrected) ENDS