Changes to resource legislation protects crops in GE-free zones

GM-hostile lobby groups have welcomed changes to the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill’s provisions on genetic engineering but are disappointed they do not go further.

The controversial Bill passed the committee stage in Parliament earlier this week and is expected to have its third and final reading today.

One controversial section that has not been removed from the final version of the Bill allows the Minister for the Environment to bypass Parliament and make fundamental changes to the law if he believes council plans duplicate or deal with the same subject matter as central Government laws.  But an exemption – secured by the Maori Party in exchange for its support in having the Bill enacted – prevents the minister from imposing GM crops on regions that want their territories to remain GM Free.

The Soil & Health Association was pleased with some of the changes regarding genetic engineering, but said they did not go far enough.

It is pleased that the Maori Party stood strong on its commitment to oppose changes that would have allowed the Minister to strike out GE-free zones.

Soil & Health chair Marion Thomson said the exemption means the Minister cannot strike out GE-free zones where crops are involved,

“The word ‘crop’ has a wide definition and we understand that the Maori Party secured the amendment on the basis that the term also covers grasses and forestry, while the term ‘growing’ could also cover field trials and releases,” says Thomson.

But the exemption does not apply to animals. This means the Minister could override local authorities on any decisions about GE animals if he chose to.

“Ultimately we are happy with this result, while animals are not covered, GM grasses, forestry, field trials and releases are,” Thomson says.

Earlier in the week, as the Bill was set to enter the committee stage, GE Free New Zealand said that stage was the last opportunity to make changes to the Bill.

“GE Free New Zealand urges that all clauses in the RLA taking away the communities’ democratic right to adopt precautionary land use rules around GMOs be dropped from this seriously flawed and inconsistent legislation,” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE-Free NZ.

GE Free Northland today said Whangarei, Far North, and Auckland communities were delighted that the Maori Party had successfully blocked the Government’s attempt to enable the Minister for the Environment to use the RMA to destroy GE Free zones.

“Our councils need to retain their authority and jurisdiction on a wide range of issues, including the right to ban or control any outdoor experimentation or release of transgenic animals,” said GE Free Northland chairperson Zelka Grammer.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill reforms six pieces of legislation including the Resource Management Act.

The bill was stalled for much of year because the Government had lost its parliamentary majority in the Northland by-election in March 2015, making it dependent on two votes from its three support partners, Act, United Future and the Maori Party, to pass legislation.

Act and United Future opposed key parts of the reforms, but the Maori Party used its votes to negotiate enhanced iwi participation arrangements in planning processes and the GM-free crop protection.

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