Federated Farmers challenge GE ruling in the High Court

Federated Farmers is challenging an Environment Court ruling in May last year that the Resource Management Act entitles regional councils to give expression to community attitudes and control the use of genetically modified organisms, especially crops.

The feds are arguing that councils cannot use the RMA to control the use of GMOs.

They say central government passed the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act expressly for that purpose and the Environmental Protection Authority is the sole regulator of GMOs.

The farmers argue that Parliament cannot have intended local councils to duplicate that job, or thwart the authority of the EPA.

Their appeal is being heard in the High Court at Whangarei, Radio New Zealand reported.

The feds hope to overturn a decision by the Environment Court’s Judge Newhook, who found that councils did have a role to play in the use of GMOs.

He found all resource use was governed by the RMA unless specifically exempted and, since regional councils were charged with the sustainable management of resources, they must therefore be able to consider the social, economic and ecological effects of genetic modification.

GE Free Northland spokesperson Zelka Grammer said, since that decision, councils up and down the country have been responding to community pressure to limit or ban GMOs.

“Hastings District Council, for example, since Judge Newhook’s decision in our favour, they’ve proceeded with their district plan and they have banned everything,” she said.

“They have banned any outdoor GE experiments; any releases for a period of 10 years. And there was very strong support in that district for that protection.”

Northland farmer and former regional councillor Ian Walker said local councils lacked the scientific smarts to make those sorts of decisions.

Mr Walker fought to keep genetic engineering off the Northland council’s agenda.

He said the anti-GE lobby was holding back production and hurting the economy.

“None of our councillors has a science background,” he said.

“The EPA is the agency that does have the scientific knowledge to control GMO releases, and it should not be able to be undermined by councils,” he says.

“There are GM grass strains being trialled overseas at the moment that could help us weather climate change,” Mr Walker said.

“They would reduce the impact on the environment and stand up to drought and flood. But they’re effectively banned in this country and we may never get them.”

The Soil and Health Association, Whangarei District Council, the Northland Regional Council and GE-Free Northland are all represented at the appeal hearing.

Both councils are taking a precautionary approach to GMOs in their policy statements, but the Soil and Health Association is funding the court case.

The association’s co-chair, Marion Thomson, said donations had poured in from around the country – many of them from organic growers worried that GMO crops could ruin their livelihoods

Local communities should be able to control where GMO crops could be grown, she said.

“There is no tolerance for GMOs in an organic production… If someone’s growing GMO crops next to an organic property and it’s contaminated, they lose their organic certification. So it’s pretty serious, for a business.”

Mana whenua in the north are also taking a close interest in the appeal.

Dr Benjamin Pittman, of Ngāti Hau, said GMOs presented a unique problem for Māori.

He said plants and animals were seen as having their own whakapapa, or genetic lineage, and messing with that went against tikanga, the sense of what was right and good.

“We know that plants evolve and change over time through natural causes,” he said.

“The problem is this human intervention. At the very least, there needs to be discussion about it and not just a blanket decision, like this is how things are going to happen.”

The appeal hearing was expected to conclude this morning with submissions from Soil and Health Association lawyer Dr Royden Somerville QC.

Funding that might have boosted rural research puts wind in yachting sails instead

The Taxpayers Union, an outfit that keeps a close eye on how the Government uses public money,  has expressed outrage at a recent Callaghan Innovation research and development grant of up to $17.25 million to Team New Zealand.

Union executive director Jordan Williams says the fund is supposed to be about making New Zealand’s economic boat go faster, not to subsidise a professional sports team.

“It’s even worse than the usual corporate welfare we see from this Government. Only a politician, or someone with an interest in the deal, could possibly think that this grant is really going to lead to new jobs, exports or meaningful economic growth.

“Not only are taxpayers funding the sport of millionaires, we know that Callaghan have given ‘growth grants’ to Team New Zealand’s opposition, Oracle Team USA. Talk about a kick in the teeth for taxpayers.”

He didn’t say so, but it’s a kick in the teeth for agricultural and horticultural sector scientists, too.

The R and D pot is only so big and $17.25 million diverted to the America’s Cup challenges is $17.5 million that won’t be applied to projects in their bailiwick.

It’s not the first time the Taxpayers Union has questioned science funding decisions.

In November it challenged the Royal Society decision to award a $600,000 Marsden Fund grant to anti-TPPA campaigner Jane Kelsey to research “Neoliberalism”.

The grant, made by the panel responsible for social science grants, is for a project entitled ‘Transcending embedded neoliberalism in international economic regulation: options and strategies’.

Williams said then:

“This is hard-earned taxpayer money, meant for genuine research, being wasted on a project which appears to already have a conclusion. It’s highjacking academic research money to promote far left ideology.”

“The research is apparently about New Zealand’s ‘embedded neoliberalism’. ‘Neoliberalism’ is a term which has come to be used by the far left to mean ‘whatever we don’t like’. It’s used by the likes of Ms Kelsey to make markets and economic freedom sound scary.”

“We’ve asked the Royal Society precisely what Professor Kelsey’s falsifiable hypothesis is. On the face of it, this grant appears to be for research with a predetermined conclusion.”

The union had publicly supported Ms Kelsey’s work in holding the Government and Ombudsman to account for failing to uphold the Official Information Act.

Williams said the union respected the right for any individual or group to champion their political views, even if it disagrees with them.

“But it is completely inappropriate for taxpayers, many of whom do not agree with Ms Kelsey’s work, to be forced to fund her political campaigning.”

If the Taxpayers’ Union was given a $600,000 government grant to research academic activism, Williams contended, “Professor Kelsey would be rightly outraged.”



Submissions sought on fungicide for wheat crops

The Environmental Protection Authority is calling for submissions on an application to import for release Elatus Plus fungicide. This fungicide contains the active ingredient benzovindiflupyr and is intended to be used to control a number of fungal diseases affecting wheat crops. This active ingredient has not previously been approved under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act and is not a component in any approved formulation.

The applicant, Sygenta Crop Protection Limited, intends Elatus Plus to be used to control four major fungal diseases affecting wheat crops (speckled leaf blotch, glume blotch, leaf rust, and stripe rust).

Elatus Plus is an emulsifiable concentrate containing 100 g/L benzovindiflupyr (also known as solatenol). It is intended to be applied using ground-based application methods only, with two applications 14 days apart.

Application details and information can be viewed here. 

The submissions period for this application opens today and closes at 5pm on Monday March 21.

Submissions are an opportunity to provide further information and raise issues about an application. They will inform a decision-making committee that will decide whether to approve or decline the application.

Rigorous tests for potential wasp biocontrol

Tests will soon begin to ensure a mite, with the potential to be used as a biocontrol agent against wasps, isn’t a threat to bees.

The mite, discovered by Landcare Research scientist Dr Bob Brown on wasp nests in 2012, recently has been recognised as a new species and named Pneumolaelaps niutirani.

It was identified and named by fellow Landcare Research scientist Dr Zhi-Qiang Zhang and Ministry for Primary Industries scientist Dr Qing-Hai Fan.

Dr Brown has been researching the mites’ potential as a biocontrol agent against wasps, which cost the country’s primary industries around $130 million a year and cause biodiversity loses.

He has found wasp nests where the mites are present are 50 to 70 per cent smaller than uninfested nests. Immature mites have also been found in nests indicating wasps could be a host.

However, other species in the genus of the mites are often found in association with bees. As a result, the next step is to conduct safety trials to make sure the mite does not pose a risk to honeybees or bumblebees.

In order to do this, bee larvae would be fed stable isotopes and the mites later inspected to see if it was in their system, Dr Brown said.

“Stable isotopes are molecules that act like a chemical marker that we can track. If the stable isotopes are found in the mites this will conclusively tell us they are feeding on the bees because there is no other way for them to acquire these molecules,” he said.

“We found the mites in low numbers in quite a few honeybee hives so we need to check out what their association is. It’s not uncommon for organisms to have a different association with other species and feed on different things. It is possible the mites are there because they hitched a ride on wasps that were robbing honey from the hive.”

The tests would begin as soon as Dr Brown had excavated wasp nests over the coming months and had access to the mites. Once complete, attention would turn to checking the mites were not harmful to native bees.

Dr Brown will also investigate the associations between the mites and wasps. In particular, if and how the mites are responsible for decreased aggression levels in the wasps and how they are managing to enter the nests.

“Wasps don’t like anything in their nest but somehow these mites are tricking them into letting them be there.”

He wanted to thank the public for their support after an appeal for wasp queens to assist his research saw him sent 436 from around the country. An analysis of the wasps found 35 per cent had a least one mite.

The Vespula Biocontrol Action Group contracted Landcare Research to investigate the mite’s potential as a biocontrol agent against wasps.

The research is funded by the Ministry of Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Fund.

Lincoln biosecurity professor is ranked among world’s top science minds

A Lincoln University professor is among nine New Zealand scientists listed among the world’s Most Influential Scientific Minds for work done in this country.

The list, based on publications released from 2003-2013 and compiled by Thomson Reuters, recognises researchers who have published the greatest number of highly cited papers in a particular field. They rank among the top one percent most cited for their subject field and year of publication.

Philip Hulme, Professor of Plant Biosecurity at Lincoln University, recognised for his contributions to the field of environment and ecology, has been listed for the second successive year.

Professor Hulme’s most highly cited papers include research on the role of trade and transport on the global spread of invasive species, the environmental impacts these species cause around the world, and the implications of climate change for biosecurity.

Professor Hulme is a research leader in the Bio-Protection Research Centre, a government-funded Centre of Research Excellence, and the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.

The official list can be viewed online at highlycited.com.

Brent R Copp, Pharmacology & Toxicology, Auckland University.

Harvey D White, Clinical Medicine, Auckland City Hospital.

John W Blunt, Pharmacology & Toxicology, Canterbury University.

Michael W Taylor, Microbiology, Auckland University.

Michele R Prinsep, Pharmacology & Toxicology, Waikato University.

Murray H. G. Munro, Pharmacology & Toxicology, Canterbury University.

Peter T. Northcote, Pharmacology & Toxicology, Victoria University.

Philip E. Hulme, Environment/Ecology, Lincoln University.

Richie Poulton, Psychiatry/Psychology, Otago University.

Another name on the list is David A Wardle, Environment/Ecology. His primary affiliation is the Swedish University of Agricultural Science. Landcare Research is his secondary affiliation.

EPA calls for submissions on weevil to control field horsetail weed

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has opened submissions on an application to introduce the horsetail weevil (Grypus equiseti) as a biological control agent for the weed field horsetail (Equisetum arvense).

The application to introduce this new organism, from the Rangitikei Horsetail Group, is made under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996.

“Biological control agents, like the horsetail weevil, are used as natural enemies to reduce the populations of pests such as insects and weeds. We’re notifying this application to ensure that the EPA can consider all views about potential risks and benefits of introducing this horsetail weevil into New Zealand,” said Applications and Assessment General Manager Sarah Gardner.

Field horsetail is an invasive species and an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993. It threatens native plants in sensitive habitats such as wetlands and on the banks of waterways. The aim of this proposed biological control programme is to limit the adverse effects of field horsetail where it occurs, and to reduce the rate and strength of invasion.

The horsetail weevil lays its eggs into the stems of the weed. The larvae feed on the stem, moving down into the plant’s roots and killing the stem. Larger larvae consume and break up the roots, reducing the ability of the plant to produce new fronds in spring. Adult weevils also feed on the stems, often causing the portion of frond above to die.

 The application notes that control of field horsetail using sprays or physical removal is problematic. Small infestations can be eradicated by constant removal of fronds or by repeated herbicide application, but this requires long-term persistent effort and is often unsuccessful as well as uneconomic.

Although its distribution is limited, field horsetail is already too widely spread for all infestations to be found and effectively treated.

It can be found in Whanganui, Rangitikei, Taranaki, parts of Greater Wellington and the west coast of the South Island. Field horsetail has also been recorded on the east coast in Havelock North, Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago.

No native plants or valued exotic plants in New Zealand are closely related to field horsetail. The closest relatives are ferns, but these are only remotely related. The weevil is well established in Europe and has only been recorded on horsetails.

The public are invited to make submissions on the application to the EPA. The submissions period closes at 5pm on March 11.

A public hearing may be held before a decision is made. The EPA will provide at least 10 working days’ notice of the hearing date, time and place. We’ll provide this information to all submitters and the applicant.

View application details and information

Find more information on submissions and the hearing process


Land and water national science challenge is launched

Enhancing New Zealand’s primary sector economic contributions while improving our environment is the aim of the newest National Science Challenge, Our Land and Water – Toitū te Whenua, Toiora te Wai.

The challenge, the largest of the 11, was officially launched by Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce in Wellington last night.

The challenge is hosted by AgResearch. Its research partners are University of Auckland, ESR, GNS, Landcare Research, Lincoln Agritech, Lincoln University, Massey University, NIWA, Plant & Food Research, Scion, and University of Waikato.

Funding is nearly $100 million over 10 years. This will be supported by additional co-funding of up to $130 million from the crown research institutes.

The challenge has four research themes: Innovative, resilient land and water use; Collaborative capacity; Greater value in global markets; and Operating at the Nexus.

Dr Paul Reynolds, the interim board chair, says researchers have worked extensively with farmers, growers and foresters, environmental managers and Māori to co-develop a programme to meet the challenge’s objective.

He said:

“The challenge has been influenced by and will build on the good work already done by the Land and Water Forum. We have close links with several of the other Challenges, in particular Biological Heritage which focuses on our native biodiversity, biosecurity, and resilience to harmful organisms. Together we will be working to accelerate science for the betterment of our land and water and the next generation.”

Dr Reynolds announced the first two official challenge appointments: Ken Taylor as permanent challenge director and Professor Richard McDowell as chief scientist.

Mr Taylor is currently the Director of the Science Group at Environment Canterbury, and chairs a reference group of the Land and Water Forum.

Professor McDowell is a principal scientist at AgResearch and Professor of Soil and Water Quality at Lincoln University.

Announcements on the first projects funded by the challenge are expected in May.


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