Minister's GM move dismays opponents

A group opposed to genetically modified crops is alarmed that, on the verge of Hastings possibly declaring itself GM-free, the environment minister has indicated that the decision is not one to be made by local government.

The Pure Hawke's Bay group was surprised to hear comments by Amy Adams that she intended to amend the Resource Management Act to "clarify the respective functions and roles of the Environmental Protection Authority and local government".

The group said councils' ability to rule on GM releases under the act was crucial to ensuring that Hawke's Bay could remain GM-free, which was important when selling to premium markets.

The Hastings District Council agreed in principle last year to a moratorium on GM releases. Submissions on the proposal in its draft district plan ended in May, with 14 submissions received, 12 of which were in support. Council staff are preparing comments to be presented to the council next month.

Auckland Council is considering limits on GM crops in its plan next month. The Whangarei District Council agreed in principle to ban GM releases and to make trials a discretionary activity.

When questioned about the matter in Parliament by Green MP Steffan Browning on Tuesday, Ms Adams said the release of genetically modified organisms had been regulated by the Environmental Protection Authority under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act for 15 years.

"I am concerned at indications that some councils are seeking to rewrite what is a nationally set regulatory framework ...

"Communities can be confident that the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act provides a robust system of controls and a very high bar for the entry of GMOs into New Zealand," she said.

Mr Browning said former environment minister Nick Smith wrote to the councils in 2010, saying it would not change the law to put in place protections, but that "this does not preclude a council from restricting or preventing the use of GMOs in their region".

But Ms Adams said the Government and ministry position had been consistent for many years, "and I would refer the member to Crown Law advice that the ministry has put on its website from 2003 and 2004, repeating its consistent position that it is not a good idea for councils to be regulating GMOs under their plans and that there are serious legal uncertainties as to how well that would work".

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, who is also president of Local Government New Zealand, said changes proposed by Ms Adams would take away councils' options but there was little they could do if the changes became law.

Contact Marty Sharpe
Hawke's Bay reporter
Email: marty.sharpe@dompost.co.nz

The Dominion Post