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Councils Threatened by Central Government Must Not Cave In (GE-Free NZ)

Wednesday 3 July 2013, 3:22PM
By GE Free NZ
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AUCKLAND CITY

There are fears that a weak Auckland Council is already preparing to abandon its powers and duties, as councils come under threat from central government for doing the work they are charged with.

The announcement by Minister for the Environment Amy Adams of a planned policy u-turn to force councils to accept GMOs approved by the EPA is already rattling Auckland Council who may be preparing to cave in.

Auckland Council has received hundreds of submissions to the Unitary Plan supporting local protection from GMOs. But now there are fears councillors are preparing to dump these submissions along with the democratic process.

Councils must keep faith with their communities and resist central government bullying tactics, especially as central government has refused to hold GMO-users liable, so exposing ratepayers to potential costs.

The Minister's recent threat is in effect to remove any choice for regions or local communities to determine their future to grow GE-free produce. She is also using misinformation to claim councils want to 'regulate GMO's'. This misrepresents local policies that aim to hold users of GMOs liable for damage, something the majority of New Zealanders would support and expect.

Councils are not “wanting to regulate” GMOs. However they are listening to their communities and implementing a precautionary approach to protect their rural economies and their rating base from the use of GE organisms. [1]

"Cross-pollination, lack of segregation, accidental spillage are all common problems that have plagued countries where GE has been released," says Claire Bleakley, president of GE-Free NZ in food and environment.

"This has caused widespread disputes between farmers as well as loss of livelihoods, increased use of toxic sprays on GM-crops, and loss of exports to markets where people are demanding clean safe food. This is what New Zealand can offer."

The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification proposed that all research into GE was to be implemented with caution to preserve non-GE production. It also recommended that equal levels of funding go into organic and other sustainable agricultural systems. This recommendation has been ignored and funding for an Organic industry body has been stopped.

“The governments solution to implement a trans-national GE policy that goes against the public will, is to remove the ability of communities to have a say. It is undemocratic and bullying” said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE Free NZ.

“The environmental legislation that has been clearly defined around the differing responsibilities of central and local government (RMA and HSNO Acts) was set up to protect the New Zealand environment. Now Amy Adams is interfering with the very core of environmental legislation just to push her party's unsound GE agenda”.

Labour Party policy, and that of most other parties in Parliament shows respect for local communities and exporters on the subject of GMOs. The National Party u-turn appears to be playing to a different audience, not New Zealanders.

New Zealand is already innovating with solutions that do not require GMO release. There is much industry-hype for GE rye grass, however cutting edge cultivars of non-GE rye grass are already being grown. They are showing that they are safe and AgResearch studies have confirmed that they reduce methane emissions, giving excellent results for New Zealand farmers. [2]

The recent drought also prompted industry lobbyists to call for release of GMOs but in reality showed success from farming mixed pasture sward with high levels of non-GE alfalfa lucerne which out-performed all other pastures and maintained animal growth and health. [3]

Evidence supporting GE-free agriculture is also provided in the recent report by Professor Heinemann on GE vs. non-GE crop performance [4]. It shows that non-GE food crops (canola, soy and corn) outperformed GE equivalents in the most important areas:  they maintained diversity of the gene pool, produced superior yields, attracted a price premium and were totally acceptable to the consumer.

Why would Councils not want to protect their ratepayers by holding GMO-users responsible? It is a means to moderate central government policy based on the notion of subsidising extreme risk-taking with GMOs and at the expense of community values, exporter success and local ratepayers.

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[1] Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) Section 142 (3)
[2] NZ grown High sugar rye grasses cut greenhouse gas emissions http://highsugargrass.co.nz/media/2011/4/17/nz-grown-high-sugar-grass-cuts-greenhouse-gas-emissions

[3] Drought Breaker Country Calendar http://www.stuff.co.nz/marlborough-express/news/8742619/Drought-breaker-on-Country-Calendar

[4] Heinemann J., Massaro M., Coray D., Apapito-Tenfen S. & Wen J (2013) Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability.