As people around New Zealand are preparing submissions to their local authorities, the Soil & Health Association is pleased that a recent Environment Court decision sets a precedent which empowers local bodies to protect their communities from the risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The Environment Court decision in December 2013 allowed the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to retain reference to GMOs in its Regional Policy Statement. The court case was brought by Scion (NZ Forest Research Institute), to prevent the BOP Regional Council advising caution when considering the use of GMOs in the environment. Scion has received millions of taxpayer dollars to develop genetically engineered pine trees in a field trial at Rotorua, and the Council included precautionary wording in response to concerns from the Bay of Plenty community and primary industries.
Soil & Health, which has advocated for a GE-free New Zealand on behalf of its members and supporters for many years, took the lead role among five section 274 (interested) parties to the court case.
“It has been demonstrated that although the risk of GMO field trials may be relatively low, the potential environmental and community impact if GMO activities were able to establish in the future without integrated planning could be very significant,” said Robert Makgill, in closing legal submissions for Soil & Health and the other section 274 parties. “Whole industries could be wiped out and significant natural resources compromised. The promotion of sustainable management requires local authorities to be alert to these possibilities.”
The Environment Court’s decision sets a precedent. 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.
“Soil & Health congratulates the BOP Regional Council for acting on the issue in the first place. We also welcome the court decision, which will encourage communities around New Zealand, including farmers, growers, exporters and consumers, to ask their local authorities to protect their environments and livelihoods from any adverse risks of GMOs,” says Karen Summerhays, a Soil & Health member who was also a section 274 party to the court case.
Media contact: on behalf of the S274 parties
Karen Summerhays, 09 837 7311