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Councils Must Learn Lessons of Leaky Buildings

Councils Must Learn Lessons of Leaky Buildings and Control GMOs

GE-Free NZ in food and environment welcomes the legal opinion and recommendations of an inter-council working party that has found local and regional authorities have a duty of care to protect their environment and communities from uninsurable long term harm from GMOs.

The working party made up of Councils from across Auckland and the north, details the need for a precautionary approach to prevent potentially enormous costs falling to ratepayers from damage arising from commercial release of GE organisms.

Under the legislation in place there is no policy for 'polluter pays' to ensure companies causing accidental harm from GE crops or GE animals are held responsible. Potential for accidental damage includes contamination of soil, emergence of resistant weeds, chemical residues in waterways, and economic loss to regions marketing their products and tourism under New Zealand's global clean-green brand.

The report of the inter-council working group is based on a Section 32 analysis under the RMA. Its pragmatic approach gives hope that Councils are learning from past experiences such as the leaky buildings fiasco, in order to properly protect their residents. Councils must act to manage costs that are slated down to local authorities and ratepayers and are effectively a subsidy for private commercial ventures, including GMOs.

"The impact of sabotage with melanine and recent DCD contamination in New Zealand milk gives insight on the economic threat to all regions from GMOs," says Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE Free NZ in food and environment.

"There are good reasons why the public cannot have confidence in safety standards and regulation driven by industry and central government."

"Wherever you stand on the GE debate, it is now recognised that as a nation we need to protect our GE-free status throughout the food chain. Our economy is reliant on our capacity to produce clean, safe food. Councils have a duty of care to address risky activities in order to protect their citizens and preserve the integrity of the environment that sustains our economy."

A 2009 survey of residents commissioned by the Councils involved in the working group found that more than two thirds of residents across the region support local government action to protect against damage from GMOs.

The challenge for councils now is to defend the public interest and resist corporate lobbying against the precautionary principle in plans. There is a real threat to democracy from companies using their power and access to government to impose policy that is tantamount to lining their own pockets at public expense.

The push-back by vested interests who benefit financially from 'socialised risk' subsidising their activities and exposing ratepayers and councils to costs, has already been seen in the Bay of Plenty.

Forestry Crown Research Insitute Scion has appealed against Environment Bay of Plenty's precautionary policy and has recently lobbied Auckland Councillors by presenting arguments that 'industry knows best', despite clear evidence to the contrary including previous biosecurity breaches at Scion's GE trial sites.

There is also a history of MAF, now Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), failing to enforce the rules approved for containment and monitoring of GE experiments. As well as inadequately monitoring GE field trials in New Zealand MPI can choose to unilaterally weaken controls set by ERMA (now the EPA) and intended to keep GE material contained. This cuts the public, independent scientists and local primary producers out of the process.

Councils have a responsibility to defend the precautionary approach in regional plans which is fundamental to protecting their communities from long term harm and from vested commercial interests.

As a society we must learn from past examples of technological failure, and of unacceptable public subsidy of private commercial risk-taking.


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