Regions win battle to keep GE-free status but confusion remains
Lobby group Pure Hawke's Bay is claiming victory in its fight to be free of genetically modified fruit and vegetables, but Federated Farmers describes the new situation as "a mess".
Pure Hawke's Bay feared Environment Minister Nick Smith would remove the powers for local and regional councils to declare themselves GE-free when the Government pushed through the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill this week.
However, in last minute changes, Smith amended the Bill so the minister could not refuse councils the right to become GE-free - but only for crops, which he defined as cereals, vegetables or fruit.
Smith's definition did not include GE grasses, trees or livestock.
A group of growers and farmers, campaigning under the Pure Hawke's Bay banner, have persuaded the Hastings District Council to ban GE crops under its district plan for 10 years.
The Bill requires Maori Party support to pass, but it refused to unless Smith withdrew the offending clause.
Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox made it clear that, for her, the amendment preserved regions' abilities under their local plans to regulate all types of GM crops in their territories including forestry and grasses.
But Labour's Environment spokesman David Parker said despite Maori Party assertions to the contrary, they were voting for a law which opened the door to GM grasses and pastures.
Meanwhile, Federated Farmers president William Rolleston, watching the Parliamentary proceedings from Rome where he is visiting as acting president of the World Farmers' Organisation, said the law would create "a mess".
"It creates a lot of uncertainty which will have to be cleaned up."
He said when the courts had to make decisions they would partially rely on the record of what the politicians said in Parliament, which was contradictory.
Fox agreed but said the courts would also be guided by previous legislation on what defined crops, and she was confident that included grasses and trees. Livestock was not included because no GE livestock had been created yet.
At present plant research company Scion based in Rotorua carries out GE trials on radiata pine trees, but the plants are destroyed afterwards.
At its Grasslands site in Palmerston North, AgResearch scientists have developed GE ryegrass that yields 50 per cent more but lowers methane levels in livestock. The plants will be shipped to the United States for testing because of New Zealand's strict laws.
Pure Hawke's Bay welcomed what it described as a Government backdown.
President Bruno Chambers said the new law would protect the region's right to decide on the GMOs most likely to come forward in the foreseeable future.
One of New Zealand's largest fruit and vegetable growers, John Bostock, said Hawke's Bay GE-free status was a "huge opportunity" for the local agricultural economy.
Federated Farmers policy is that farmers should have the right to choose whether to use genetically modified organisms. It would prefer the Environmental Protection Authority to make decisions over them.
New Zealand has GE-free zones in the Whangarei District Council area, Auckland and Hastings, and the High Court has upheld the councils' rights in the face of Federated Farmers litigation.