Scion is pleased that Environment Court decision calls for national management of GMOs

Anti-genetic organisations and campaigners are welcoming an Environment Court decision, saying it has set a precedent which will give local bodies the right to set policies on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their regions.

But Scion, the Crown Research Institute which brought the case against the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, is pleased too.

It says the court accepted its arguments that decisions concerning the management of genetically modified organisms belong at a national level with the Environmental Protection Authority.

Scion, which is conducting field trials on genetically engineered pine trees near Rotorua, challenged the Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s reference to GMOs in its regional policy planning statement.

Scion wanted references to community concerns about the risk posed by GMOs in the Bay of Plenty deleted from a small section of the statement.

It claimed the reference would result in duplication of the precautionary approach to GMOs.

The court decision (a full copy can be found here) was issued on 18 December but has only now been publicised because the appeal period has expired.

Scion’s statement says:

Scion is pleased with the decision of the Environment Court. The Court accepted our arguments that decisions concerning the management of genetically modified organisms belong at a national level with the Environmental Protection Authority.

While we were not successful in getting GMO references removed altogether from the regional policy statement, the Court’s rewording of the provision dealing with GMOs achieved the outcome we were seeking.

More specifically the wording in the policy was altered to ensure identifying GMOs as a special concern does not have the status of a policy statement.

The Soil and Health Association of New Zealand and GE Free New Zealand were among organisations that joined the regional council in its defence.

According to a Radio NZ report:

GE Free New Zealand spokesperson Claire Bleakley, one of the regional council’s supporters in the case, says the ruling will help other local bodies and communities also seeking to limit the use of GMOs.

“Without a doubt, this ruling has mandated that councils have a right, on land use issues, to put GMOs as a significant issue of concern and to put to policies and rules around them if the community sees fit,” Ms Bleakley says.

“Scion, and the Government, has also tried to say that no way could councils put this in because it was a central government issue. The Environment Court decision has shown that it is also a community decision and, where it is appropriate, communities can call their councils to put rules and policies around it.”

Comments on the ruling have been made by…

* The Soil and Health Assocation (here). It says the court decision sets a precedent which empowers local bodies to protect their communities from the risks of genetically modified organisms.

“It clearly indicates that the Resource Management Act can be used to manage activities involving GMOs in the Bay of Plenty region. The Court indicated that the Council may propose more directive regulation in the future. Communities and industries in the Bay can now work towards stricter rules in their District and City Plans to protect and keep their ‘GE-free’ environment status and marketing advantage.”

* GE Free New Zealand (here). It says the court decision has upheld the right for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, in its regional policy statement, to include wording calling for a precautionary approach to be taken on the growing of genetically modified crops in the region.

GE Free NZ says councils can now be forward thinking by identifying emerging issues that require a precautionary approach to protect their people, local environment and economic wellbeing.

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