Far North Joins Authorities In GMO Survey

Published: Fri 10 Oct 2008 12:47 AM
9 October 2008
Far North District Council voted unanimously last week to join Waitakere City Council , Rodney, Kaipara and Whangarei District Councils in undertaking collaborative community consultation on the GE issue, as the first step in investigating some type of local regulation of GMO land use.
Many of the councils (all of whom are members of the Inter Council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation & Options) want a ban on genetically modified organism releases or field trials until the issue of who pays if things go wrong is sorted out.
FNDC was one of the Northland/Auckland councils who established that liability for GMO trials which went wrong would lie with local authorities, after it helped fund a legal opinion in 2004.
Chairperson Martin Robinson said "We are delighted that local authorities are jointly taking action to address the risks of GMOs and refusing to accept central governments attempt to foist liability for GE stuffups on local authorities and existing land users. For primary producers and other ratepayers in Northland, a key issue is accountability when things go wrong. "
"Our view has always been that there are serious risks which threaten our biosecurity, economy, primary producers, the environment and our clean green brand."
Mayor Wayne Brown strongly endorsed the move to ban GMO field trials and releases until the issues are resolved.
Possible GMOs include transgenic livestock, genetically modified vegetables, ryegrass, pine trees, and a genetically engineered vaccine for horse flu.
Martin Robinson said within New Zealand, GE experimentation so far had been confined to laboratories or field trials. (including the poorly contained HortResearch GE Tamarillo trial).
However, the next stage in the development of genetically modified plants and animals is likely to be pre-commercial conditional releases to the environment.
"The working party found if the Northland/Auckland region was included in any of these applications, it would effectively be too late for (those) councils to prevent the release should it be approved by the national regulator, ERMA."
"Any chance of the region remaining GE-free, until the issues of liability are resolved, would be lost," he said.
GE FREE NORTHLAND believes the next logical step is achieving enforceable REGIONAL EXCLUSION ZONE status (for GE) for Northland.
Ideally, a shared approach to prohibiting GE activities will be taken by local government on a regional level.
Northland is ideally placed geographically to achieve this distinction, which would minimize the economic, environmental, public health and liability exposures from GE release and experiments.
A legal opinion from one of the countries top Resource Management lawyers - Dr. Royden Somerville, QC - on the role of local government regarding GMOs in their region has was released by Whangarei District Council in 2005
The legal opinion indicates that local government does have jurisdiction regarding GMOs under the RMA and Local Government Act 2002 should the council choose to exercise it. The legal opinion was commissioned by Whangarei District Council, with support of all other territorial authorities in Northland, as well as Rodney District Council, Waitakere City Council and Local Government NZ.
Community Management of GMOs II - November 2005
Media Release
DATE: 07 October 2008
TITLE: Far North Joins Regional Survey on GMOs
The Far North District Council will take part in regional consultation to find out what people think about the outdoor use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Northland.
The council joins Whangarei, Kaipara, Rodney and Whangarei District Councils and Waitakere City Council in financially supporting the consultation which will include a telephone survey to gauge community views on the potential release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment.
The four northern councils are part of an inter-council working party (ICWP) formed to take a collaborative approach to the issues of risk and liability associated with the use of GMOs.
The working party has cooperated on acquiring legal opinions about their use, funding the community consultation programme, and lobbying Central Government to manage the release of GMOs to the environment including liability issues.
Far North Mayor Wayne Brown says there are too many unanswered questions regarding the use of GMOs and their release into the environment and the Government needs to take a lead role rather than leaving the burden with local authorities.
"We've got enough to think about attending to our core business like roads, water, sewerage and waste," he said. "We are not prepared to accept liability for GMO use and commit our ratepayers to accept financial responsibility for cleaning up environmental damage and compensating for economic loss that could result from their use.
"This is a Central Government role and they must pick it up. If we can achieve this by uniting with other councils and enlisting community support, then our involvement in this joint initiative will be well worth our while."
The northern councils are also seeking the adoption of management mechanisms within the Northland Regional Council's regional policy statement.
Their research, including detailed analysis of the relevant legislation and Ministry for the Environment and Crown Law opinion, has identified that there are inadequate legal liability provisions and the issue of risk remains unanswered.
Those who release GMOs into the environment may not be held financially accountable for any damage that may result, potentially leaving the local authorities and their communities to carry the costs.
Also, local authorities have no authority over decisions to allow GMO land uses in their districts in their districts or regions, other than through performance standards in their district plans or conditions attached to resource consents that require financial accountability for environmental damage and avoidance of economic loss.
The councils' collective view is that this is not acceptable based on legal opinion that if they did successfully restrict the use of GMOs through their plans, they would take on the liability for any lack of adherence to this control.
For further information please contact:-
Alison Lees
Communications Manager
Far North District Council
0800 920 029
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Mayor backs ban on GMOs
Whangarei District Council
Media Release - (11 September 2008)
Whangarei Mayor Stan Semenoff has strongly endorsed calls for the Northland and Auckland Regional Councils to ban field trialing or release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) until all issues surrounding them are resolved.
Whangarei District Council's environment committee today unanimously supported an inter-council working party recommendation to prohibit GMO trialing and release until liability, economic costs and benefits, environmental risks and cultural/community concerns were satisfied.
The Inter-council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options, comprising Whangarei, Far North, Kaipara, and Rodney District Councils, Waitakere and North Shore City Councils, and the Northland and Auckland Regional Councils, met in July to discuss types and timing of possible releases on GMOs in the Auckland-Northland region. Auckland City Council was unable to attend but remains a member of the working party.
The possible GMOs include transgenic livestock, genetically modified vegetables, ryegrass, pine trees, and a genetically engineered vaccine for horse flu.
Within New Zealand, research to date has been confined to laboratories or contained field trials. However, the next stage in the development of genetically modified plants and animals is likely to be pre-commercial conditional releases to the environment.
The Working Party found if the Northland/Auckland region was included in any of these applications, it would effectively be too late for Northland/Auckland councils to prevent the release should it be approved by the national regulator, ERMA. Any chance of the region remaining GE free, until the issues of liability are resolved, would be lost.
Mr Semenoff said there were serious concerns in local government in Auckland and Northland over the release of GMOs and action needed to be taken urgently to prevent their release.
"Central government should have put a stop to any chance of the release of GMOs into the environment nationally until the issues surrounding them are resolved, but it has not had the backbone. If there is a change of Government, I will be sitting on their doorstep wanting action.
"Significant concerns have been raised here, for example herbicide-resistant ryegrass getting into our waterways. How would we deal with that?
"Any cross pollination leading to Roundup-resistant kikuyu would have huge implications for our farming industry, and those problems would be specific to Northland as kikuyu does not thrive in southern areas.
"The Working Party has taken the only sensible course in seeking in the meantime a blanket ban on field trialing or release of GMOs for the Auckland and Northland regions," he said.
The Working Party will request that the ARC and NRC insert provisions into their respective Regional Policy Statements to the effect of prohibiting the field trialing or release of GMOs in the Northland and Auckland regions until outstanding issues are resolved.
The Working Party will continue to lobby Central Government, using key eminent persons from constituent councils on the Working Party, to amend the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act to address the concerns of the Working Party, in particular the liability provisions.
At present, there is no liability to the party releasing GMOs to the environment for damage resulting from a release carried out in accordance with an ERMA approval. There is no requirement on applicants to prove financial fitness in case of damage, and no requirement for posting bonds to recover costs should damage occur. Costs will lie with affected parties, both existing land users and councils.
Each political party represented in Parliament will be sent the same set of questions (relating to amending the HSNO Act to address liability) that were sent by the Working Party to the Government in December 2006 to enable a comparison between all political parties before the upcoming elections.
The Working Party, subject to the confirmation of the respective councils, will proceed with a community consultation programme, including a telephone survey, to gauge the level of community support for the management of GMO land uses under the RMA by local authorities at a local or regional level.
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