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Let local authorities decide on GM-free status, says new poll

Friday 29th November 2013

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New Zealanders overwhelmingly reject government plans to override the ability of local authorities to declare regions free of genetically modified crops, according to research by pollsters Colman Brunton for the Pure Hawkes Bay lobby group.

The poll of 1,000 New Zealanders, taken in July and August, found 83 percent thought it was either important or very important (51 percent) for "New Zealand's reputation to remain GM free in food production."

Some 79 percent agreed that local councils should be allowed to keep their districts GM free, and 78 percent want councils to be able to "make those who trial or use GM crops pay for the costs of GM contamination."

Taken for an inter-council working party on GM organisms, the poll proved the government's proposals to make all GM crop decisions the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Authority is "way out of step with New Zealanders," said Bruno Chambers of Pure Hawkes Bay.

PHB has been lobbying to establish the region as GM free as part of a wider strategy to position food and beverages from the area as high quality, premium-priced products, especially for export markets.

Its concern is not with the scientific arguments about whether or not GM crops are safe, but with the clear demand from well-heeled consumers not to consume products that contain GM ingredients.

"Food producers and exporters are far better placed to understand regional economic opportunities than a Wellington-based regulator," said another PHB spokesman, John Bostock, in a statement. "And the message from the marketplace is that loud and clear: premium buyers and high value markets want GM free."

Auckland City is already pursuing GM free status for its region as part of its Unitary Plan, despite announcements by Environment Minister Amy Adams that the EPA will regulate the sector, through its responsibility for hazardous substances and new organisms (HSNO).

The Whangarei, Kaipara, Far North District and Hastings District Councils are also intending to go down the same route.

"Concerns (about GM crops) have not abated, but rather have increased over time," said Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai in a statement.

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