High Court rules in favour of regional councils having a role in curbing genetic modification

The High Court today has upheld the ruling that regional councils have the right to decide on the provisions, policies, and rules regarding the use of genetically modified organisms in their regions.

Judge Mary Peters ruled in favour of the Whangarei District Council, Northland Regional Council, Soil & Health Association, GE Free Northland and others, dismissing the appeal on all questions raised by the appellants, Federated Farmers of New Zealand.

Federated Farmers had appealed the Environment Court’s ruling in May 2015 that there is jurisdiction under the Resource Management Act for local councils to control the use of genetically modified organisms via regional policy instruments.

Federated Farmers argued that local government had no role in legislating about these organisms and contended the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act was the overarching legislation that governs how they are used in New Zealand.

Judge Mary Peters said in her decision the Environment Court “was conscious of the overlap between the RMA and HSNO but it was not persuaded that overlap required a conclusion that GMOs (and other new organisms) are required to be excluded from consideration in the promulgation of a regional policy statement or plan.”

In a press release welcoming the ruling, Soil & Health says much of the public is still under the impression New Zealand is a GE-free nation.

“The truth, however, is much more complex”: –

1. GE in the environment: The moratorium on GE organisms (such as crops and animals) in the environment was lifted in 2003, but since then no applications have been made for commercial release, although there are and have been GE field trials.

2. GE in food and animal feed: While we do not grow any GE crops or animals, there are many imported GE ingredients in our food. As of July 2012 Food Standards Australia New Zealand has approved 53 applications of 71 different GE food lines into our country, and an estimated 70% or more of processed non-organic foods for sale in New Zealand contain GE ingredients. In addition to human food, New Zealand imports large quantities of animal feed which is almost certainly genetically engineered.

Significant gaps exist in the law around GMOs in New Zealand, Soil & Health contends.

“There is a lack of   strict liability for GMO contamination resulting from the release of an approved GMO, and no mandatory requirement for the Environmental Protection Authority to take a precautionary approach to the outdoor use of GMOs.

“Under the HSNO Act there is no requirement for “polluter pays” to ensure companies causing unintended or unforeseen adverse impacts from GE crops of GE animals are held responsible. Due to these gaps in the law, a number of councils around New Zealand have been moving to protect their primary producers and communities by introducing precautionary or prohibitive policies.

The Northland Regional Council, after receiving hundreds of submission from Northland ratepayers, district councils, Northland Conservation Board, iwi authorities, hapū and community groups, decided  to adopt a precautionary approach around the outdoor release of GMOs in the proposed Northland Regional Policy Statement. It also identified GMOs as an issue of significance for Northland tangata whenua and an issue of concern for Northland Communities in their Regional Policy Statement.”

Federated Farmers lodged an appeal with the Environment Court last year to challenge the precautionary GMO provisions in the Northland Regional Policy statement.

Principal Environment Court Judge L. Newhook found that there is jurisdiction under the Resource Management Act for regional councils to make provision for the outdoor use of GMOs through regional policy statements and plans.




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