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NZ government to review GMO law after High Court ruling in favour of local councils

Friday 2nd September 2016

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The New Zealand government will review the law on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) after a High Court ruling which gave local councils the ability to veto their use within their district.

In Auckland's High Court on Wednesday, Justice Mary Peters dismissed an appeal raised by Federated Farmers, ruling that councils have jurisdiction to control the environmental impact of GMOs by regulating their use. 

Councils proposing or with a prohibition on GMOs in their resource management plans are the Northland Regional Council, the Far North District Council, the Whangarei District Council and the Hastings District Council, while the new Auckland Unitary Plan, subject to appeals by Sept. 15, also contains a provision banning GMOs.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said today in a statement that the government would "review the appropriateness of councils being involved" in GMO regulation. 

"It does not make sense for local councils to duplicate the role of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in regulating the use of GMOs in New Zealand," Smith said. "The EPA has taken a very cautious approach, approving only two GMOs in 20 years – an equine flu vaccine and the [liver cancer vaccine] Pexa-Vec trial. 

"The problem with councils regulating in this area is that they do not have the technical expertise, resulting in regulations that have unintended consequences. The further problem is that there are no biosecurity controls between councils, so having different rules on what organisms are allowed in different districts becomes a nonsense."

Smith said he had asked the Ministry for the Environment for advice, and solutions could include a law change to clarify GMO controls are determined by the EPA and not councils. Any changes would involve public consultation, he said.

Federated Farmers applauded Smith's comments, with president William Rolleston saying regional authorities weren't equipped to regulate the technology.

"We will see unqualified council staff regulate technology they don’t understand and stifle new emerging science," Rolleston said. "Overseas 90-95% of farmers have used genetically modified organisms when they have been permitted to do so. At the end of the day farmers in every district deserve to have choice to use technologies which have been assessed as safe by the EPA."

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