Landmark court case on GE

see also

Landmark court case on GE

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

One of the world’s oldest organic organisations is going to court to support caution on genetic engineering. The Soil & Health Association of New Zealand, founded in 1941, is leading a group of interested parties in support of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s precautionary approach to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in its Regional Policy Statement.
“We are advocating on behalf of our 3000 members, plus consumers and producers, both organic and conventional, who want a precautionary approach to GE,” said Marion Thomson, co-chair of Soil & Health. “Soil & Health is a not-for-profit organisation and we have received amazing support for this case in our recent appeal to members and supporters.”
The publicly owned Forest Research Institute, Scion, triggered the court case by appealing the Council’s inclusion of precautionary wording about GMOs. The case will be heard in the Environment Court in Tauranga on 28–29 November. Scion has received millions of taxpayer dollars to develop genetically engineered pine trees. It has a field trial at Rotorua, and approval to plant thousands of GE pine trees.
Five parties have joined the Council’s defence as Section 274 Parties (interested parties who originally made submissions to the Council on its Regional Policy Statement). They are Soil & Health, GE Free NZ (in Food and Environment), GE Free Northland and two individuals: John Sanderson and former Bay of Plenty Regional Councillor Karen Summerhays.
“Soil & Health supports the right of local bodies to manage any potential release of GMOs in their area,” said Thomson. “We are concerned that Environment Minister Amy Adams has signalled her intention to ban councils from being able to manage GMOs as a land-use issue in their regions, cities or districts. The Bay of Plenty Regional Council has listened to community concerns and stated that they promote a precautionary approach to GMOs. They also acknowledge that current legislation may be inadequate to deal with potential adverse effects of GMOs in the region.”
“GMOs are incompatible with organic systems, and are not allowed in food or farming according to organic certification standards,” said Thomson. Overseas, there have been numerous farmers who have lost their GE-free or certified organic status because of contamination from GE crops. A well-known case was that of Percy Schmeiser in Canada, whose canola crop became contaminated by his neighbour’s GE canola; seed company Monsanto eventually settled out of court. In Western Australia, Steve Marsh lost organic certification for 70% of his farm when his oats and wheat crops became contaminated by a neighbour’s GE canola; a court case is pending.
PHOTO CAPTION: Pine tree trial at Scion's Rotorua site




5 November 2013

Press Release – for immediate release

An Environment Court Hearing will be held on the 28th and 29th November, at the Oceanside Resort Conference Room, Mt Maunganui, to defend the BOP Regional Councils precautionary approach to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in the environment.

The Crown Research Institute, SCION, has appealed the inclusion of precautionary wording forcing the BOPRC to defend the inclusion of a precautionary approach in the Regional Policy Statement

Five parties have joined the Council’s defence as Section 274 Parties; they are Soil & Health NZ, GE Free in Food and Environment NZ, GE Free Northland and two individuals: John Sanderson and former Regional Councillor, Karen Summerhays.

Soils & Health NZ, on behalf of the 274 Parties, have engaged Barrister Robert Makgill as their legal counsel and as well as expert planning, scientific and cultural evidence there will be evidence presented from primary production sector of the Bay of Plenty.

Soil & Health is one of a number of organisations, and individuals, that have strived for the last two decades to keep New Zealand’s environment GMO free; this status benefits both conventional and organic primary producers who can market their products as GMO free.

The 274 Parties maintain that there is enough scientific uncertainty around the release of GMOs in the environment to warrant a precautionary approach; not just from the environment’s perspective but also socially, economically and culturally and that the release of GMOs into the environment needs to be managed as a land use activity, on a case by case basis, so as not to damage other primary industries, both organic and conventional farmers, who wish to continue to enjoy the benefits of growing and providing GMO free produce.

As it has now been shown that buffer zones don’t work so this case is significant; especially in light of the recent statements by the Minster for the Environment announcing her intentions to ban Councils from being able to manage the placements of GMOs within their local environment.

Former Regional Councillor, Karen Summerhays, who initiated this work when she was in office, says “We have to stand up and make sure that the right to retain our region’s GE free production status for our communities, primary producers and industries, is available through integrated land use management.”

And “Even though this is just one step along the way, I want to congratulate the BOP Regional Council for recognising there are risks to their constituents and that turning a blind eye was not an option”

Karen Summerhays

Former Bay of Plenty Regional Councillor

59 View Rd

Henderson 0612

021 0437858


Appendix 1

The BOP Regional Council (BOPRC) precautionary wording in their Proposed Regional Policy Statement (RPS) states:

BOP Regional Policy Statement 

Section 1.7     Precautionary approach.

 The ability to manage activities can be hindered by a lack of understanding about environmental processes and the effects of activities. Therefore, an approach which is precautionary but responsive to increased knowledge is required. 

It is expected that a precautionary approach would be applied to the management of natural and physical resources wherever there is uncertainty, including scientific, and a threat of serious or irreversible adverse effects on the resource and the built environment. It is important that any activity which exhibits these constraints is identified and managed appropriately.

 Although those intending to undertake activities seek certainty about what will be required of them, when there is little information as to the likely effects of those activities, public authorities are obliged to consider such activities on a case-by-case basis.

Such consideration could be provided for in regional and district plans, through mechanisms such as zoning or rules enabling an assessment of effects through a resource consent process, or through other regulation such as bylaws.  Any resource consent granted in such circumstances should be subject to whatever terms and conditions and/or reviews are considered necessary to avoid significant adverse effects on the environment and protect the health and safety of people and communities.


The existence of genetically modified organisms in the environment has generated community concern. Of particular concern is the placement and location of trial and containment facilities.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council promotes a precautionary approach to the release, control and use of genetically modified organisms within the region. The precautionary approach is a necessary response to unresolved issues relating to potential environmental risks, economic costs, and cultural and social effects.

The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (“HSNO Act”) contains specific legislation for managing genetically modified organisms.   These legislative functions are carried out by the Environmental Protection Authority. Where appropriate the Resource Management Act may complement and supplement the HSNO Act to regulate in this area.