A recent New Zealand Environment Court decision has upheld the right for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, in its Regional Policy statement, to place wording for a precautionary approach to be taken on the growing of genetically modified (GMO) crops in the region.
It also has given Councils the right, after the appropriate processes have been fulfilled; to place policies and rules around the GMO land use activities, if they are deemed to be of regional significance by the community. Councils can now be forward thinking by identifying emerging issues that require a precautionary approach to protect their people, local environment and economic wellbeing.
The Rotorua based Crown Research Institute (CRI), Scion, who are developing genetically engineered pine trees with altered reproductive traits and resistance to herbicide applications, challenged the Regional Council wording and sought to remove any reference to GMO’s in the preamble of the Regional Policy statement.
GE Free NZ was one of five 274 parties, including Soil and Health, GE Free Northland, Karen Summerhays and John Sanderson who supported the council wording. They attended two rounds of mediation but there was no consensus achieved. The case against the Bay of Plenty Regional Council then went to a one day hearing in the Environment Court, Tauranga where GE Free NZ presented witness statements on behalf of their members in the region.
“We are very pleased with the Environment Court decision and welcome the protection and precaution it signals to all rate paying communities. It is fundamental to democracy that farmers and residents all over the country are able to have a say on land-use issues in their region, especially when livelihoods and economic wellbeing are under threat from unknown risks of new technologies like GMO’s,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE-Free NZ.
“There were two attempts at mediation, but Scion refused to accept the wording put forward. We believe that it was unprincipled for the CRI to use the taxpayer’s money to try and shut down the community voice in this way.”
Minister for the Environment Amy Adams has said she will change the Resource Management Act (RMA) to disallow any ruling on genetically modified organisms by councils, arguing that such a ruling was the place of the central government under the Hazardous Substance and New Organisms Act (HSNO). However the Environment Court has noted that it was a recommendation of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (RCGM) that Councils, through the RMA could place land-use designations for genetically modified organisms.
“We would like to thank our lawyers for their excellent arguments, the 274 parties and our supporters” said Mrs. Bleakley “As the Royal Commission highlighted, if GMO risks are left unaddressed community conflict over GMO contamination could destroy good neighbourliness, as is being seen in the pending ‘Steve Marsh’ court case in Australia which started today”.