A very important Environment Court decision of 2015 has been the finding that regional councils now do have the right to make planning decisions about the outdoor use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) on their regions under the RMA. L. Newhook, the Principal Judge of the Environment Court, in May actually gave a ruling that there is a jurisdiction under RMA for the regional councils to make planning decisions about the outdoor use of GMOs in their areas.
GE Free Northland, the Soil & Health Association of New Zealand and Taitokerau mana whenua supported the Whangarei District Council in successful defence of the local authorities' right to control the use of GMOs in their areas, after the Federated Farmers sought the ruling that Northland Regional Council had actually acted outside the jurisprudence in taking the approach.
However, the Federated Farmers after losing the appeal has in fact filed another case now against the decision of the Environment Court with High Court.
Soil & Health's co-chair person Marion Thomson is very disappointed with this act of the Federated Farmers. “Soil & Health was delighted to have our view confirmed by Judge Newhook. We’re disappointed, however, that an organisation that supposedly represents farmers has decided to appeal the decision. Why does Federated Farmers want to deny Northlanders the right to manage what happens in their own region? Is there an application in the wings for a GE field trial or GMO release in Northland?”
GE Free Northland spokesman, Martin Robinson said, “The laws around liability for GMO contamination resulting from the release of an approved GMO are non-existent and grossly inadequate for GE field trials. Because of the gaps in the law a number of councils around New Zealand are moving to protect their primary producers and communities by introducing precautionary or prohibitive policies. It is vitally important that there should be a much-needed additional layer of local protection, should there be damages caused by any outdoor use of GMOs.
Mr. Robinson even added, “In our view, Federated Farmers is stalling for time and wasting money, while hoping for a law change. We hope that if the government is not prepared to change the law to protect innocent victims, it will at least recognise the rights of the regions to control the outdoor use of GMOs by using the RMA to include iwi and community aspirations in their Regional Statements.”
The Government is going to need the support of New Zealand First, United Future or Maori Party for changing the law. GE Free Northland only hopes that these parties recognise the amount of support there is from Northlanders and Iwi for their councils to manage the outdoor use of GMOs.
“We urge the National Party to abandon their unhelpful proposal to include a new paragraph in the RMA, spelling out that central government will block the work of local authorities to create a much-needed additional tier of local protection against the risks of outdoor use of GMOs,” said Mr Robinson.
In 2013, Pure Hawkes Bay actually commissioned a Colmar Brunton poll where 4 out of 5 Kiwis thought that the councils must keep their districts GE-free using the local plans. After all, consumers all over the world are trying to use products that are GE-free and organic. “It makes economic and environmental sense to pursue clean, green farming, and not dice with risky GE technology that has failed to perform, and created problems overseas, said Mr. Robinson.