13 April 2011

 News release

 Whangarei vote unanimous on way forward for GE



 Whangarei District Council (WDC) has taken a leadership position on the controversial issue of genetic engineering. Councillors voted unanimously today at their Environment Committee Meeting to investigate regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) through the District Plan in conjunction with other councils in Northland and Auckland. The regulation would most likely take the form of prohibiting releases of GMOs to the environment and requiring resource consents for GE trials undertaken in Northland and Auckland.


The resolution says that WDC will talk to other councils on the Inter-council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options (Whangarei, Far North, Kaipara and Auckland) about regulatory options to prevent or manage risks of social, cultural, economic or environmental harm from GMO land uses. This would include formulating specific objectives, policies and rules to include in a joint change to District Plans.


“The community has spoken loud and clear to us on this issue for a number of years – in surveys, polls, and annual plan and LTCCP consultation and a 7,000-person submission – in fact they have taken every opportunity to let us know that they think this is a very major issue,” said Environment Group Chair Councillor Shelley Deeming.


“The key issue up until now has been liability.  There has been  concern that if a problem came up as a result of the introduction or trial of a genetically engineered organism, provided the person responsible had obtained the appropriate approvals, they could not be held responsible for cleaning up the mess if something went wrong.


Deputy Mayor Phil Halse was among a number of councillors who spoke out in favour of the recommendation, making a comparison with the melamine-tainted milk scandal in China and the impact on the reputation of that country’s dairy produce. 


“Today our Council has said ‘yes’ to a way forward for our community,” Cr. Deeming saidGovernment has made it clear now that they don’t see the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) process will be modified, so there will be no remedies coming from that direction.  They have also made it clear they believe councils do have the legal ability to put the necessary protections in place.


“This Council now feels it is appropriate for us to show leadership. Pastoral farming is the number one earner in our District whether we like it or not, and tourism is high up there as well.  All it would take is just one slip of the GE cup for the perception of Whangarei and Northland as a supplier and exporter of primary produce, and a clean green destination, to be irreparably damaged,” she said.   


“At the very least, we need GE to be a prohibited activity until the liability issues are resolved, and preferably, prohibited for good,” Cr. Deeming said.


The public gallery of the Council Chamber was full and loud applause supported a number of the councillors’ speeches as well as the unanimous vote to adopt the recommendation.


Cr Deeming said that the next step will be to see if a joint management approach involving local approval processes for GE trialling or introductions can be achieved with the other Northland councils and Auckland.  All are expected to discuss the issue in the near future and decide whether to support WDC in introducing local and/or regional regulation of GMOs.  Whangarei is however determined to proceed even if a joint approach cannot be achieved in the short term.


“Other councils in New Zealand will also be watching developments in Northland and Auckland very closely, and should councils in the north introduce regulation of GMOs into their planning documents, other parts of New Zealand are likely to follow this lead,” Cr Deeming said..


WDC’s decision follows a response by the Minister for the Environment to a letter sent by the Working Party asking the Government to amend the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act to address the concerns of communities in Northland and Auckland over the risks from GMOs.


These concerns were revealed in a detailed public opinion survey of Northland and Auckland communities conducted by Colmar Brunton for the Working Party in 2009 which showed high levels of dissatisfaction with existing national regulation of GMOs including inadequate liability provisions and, in the absence of changes to national legislation, strong support for local government regulating GMOs.


Despite the fact the survey represented more than 30% of the total population of New Zealand, the response by the Minister indicated that the Government has no intention of amending the legislation to address community concerns over risks from GMOs or the lack of strict liability. 


However, the Minister did confirm that local authorities can restrict or prevent the use of GMOs in their district or region under the Resource Management Act provided that they can show that it is necessary in addition to national regulation under HSNO.


Councillors also congratulated Policy Planner Dr Kerry Grundy for his thorough and detailed analysis of the issues. 


Councillor Williamson was absent from the meeting on other Council business.


Read the full agenda item here.



For further information:

WDC Deputy Mayor Phil Halse

09 4327945 (home)  09 430 4200 (Whangarei District Council)

Cr Shelley Deeming

Phone 027 275 7330


Dr Kerry Grundy

Convener of Inter-council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options

Whangarei District Council

(09) 430 4200