Maori Party raises concerns over RMA changes which could affect GMO-free rules

A GE-free message is pictured in a paddock at Tauroa Station.
Jared White

A GE-free message is pictured in a paddock at Tauroa Station.

A law change which could let the Government overrule local councils' bans on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are under threat, with a key support partner expressing concerns.

The Maori Party, which has faced criticism for supporting Resource Management Act reforms, has written to Environment Minister Nick Smith with a "please explain" about the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill.

Anti-GE groups have expressed fears about section 360D, which would let the environment minister prohibit a local authority "from making specified rules or specified types of rules".

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox says the party wants greater clarity about parts of the RMA reforms which could affect ...
Ross Giblin/Fairfax NZ

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox says the party wants greater clarity about parts of the RMA reforms which could affect councils' GMO-free provisions.

Councils have fought off a number of legal challenges against their ability to set up GMO-free zones under the RMA, with Hastings District Council, Whangarei District Council, and Northland Regional Council among those to have provisions.

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In the letter to Smith, co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox said the proposed powers "extend beyond what we understand was intended in the discussions that the Maori Party have had with you on this matter".

Environment Minister Nick Smith says the Government already has powers to override councils' rules around GMOs.
JOSEPH JOHNSON

Environment Minister Nick Smith says the Government already has powers to override councils' rules around GMOs.

The letter said the Maori Party would not support section 360D if it allowed a minister to overrule provisions in a plan, such as a GMO-free zone.

Fox said she and Flavell shared others' concerns about GMO products, and wanted Smith to make his intentions explicit in the law.

"We feel what has been drafted varies from our conversations [so] we're going to go back with a few proposals, based on that clarification, as to what new drafting might look like."

She wanted the bill to define exactly when and where a minister could use the 360D powers and where they could not, instead of leaving it open to interpretation.

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Fox said the party had not decided whether the issue would be a bottom line for supporting the RMA reforms, and would wait for a proper response from the Government.

"We did say when we agreed to the things that we got through that it was subject to the drafting: now that we've seen the drafting this is one area, and only one area, that we have concerns over so we want to have it clarified."

'DEAD IN THE WATER' WITHOUT SUPPORT

Soil and Health Association spokeswoman Karen Summerhays said the organic food organisation, which had raised concerns about the Maori Party's support for the reforms, was happy it was taking another look.

"We congratulate them completely for keeping an open mind about it, and taking some positive action about it."

The legislation would be "dead in the water" without the Maori Party's support, Summerhays said.

Summerhays said her organisation would continue to lobby both local and central government over the GMO issue.

"It's one of those things where we can't take our eye off the ball, because there are plenty of other lobbyists that are lobbying for GE crops and things like that."

In a statement, Smith said the proposed new regulatory powers "include no new powers specifically in relation to genetically modified organisms".

The Government already had the power to override councils' rules on genetic modification through national environmental standards, as it was doing with 1080 controls, he said.

Smith said there were "significant safeguards" built into the bill, with requirements to notify the public, councils and iwi, and give enough time and opportunity to comment on the proposed override.

 - Stuff

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