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Ground-breaking report on GMO management

16 November 2005

Innovative and ground-breaking report on GMO management

Four options for managing GMO activities under the RMA have been put forward in a report released today. It recommends that councils consult with the public to gauge the level of community support for local management of GMO land uses.

The Far North, Kaipara, Rodney, and Whangarei District Councils along with the Waitakere City Council have jointly commissioned and funded the report to identify options for managing the risks arising from GMOs.

Each of the options put forward involves changing councils’ district plans to allow extra safeguards to be set at the local level – ones that would act in addition to those set by the national regulator, ERMA.

The options the report evaluates are: making all GMO land uses discretionary activities, prohibiting all GMO land uses, and two others that would make some classes of activity discretionary while other classes of activity would be prohibited.

The report identifies a series of economic, environmental and cultural risks associated with the outdoor use of GMOs. It highlights the risk that cultivation of GM crops could cause, namely economic damage through GM contamination appearing in non-GM crops. This is considered a major source of risk because even trace levels of contamination are sufficient to trigger food product rejection as a matter of course for Japanese and northern European wholesale buyers.

At the same time, the report documents serious gaps in liability law applying to the use of GMOs. There is no liability under the statute governing GMOs for losses resulting from a GMO release carried out in accordance with an approval from ERMA. Costs will instead tend to fall on those suffering the loss or damage (such as non-GM farmers and local authorities).

A further important deficiency noted by the report is that the exercise of precaution is a matter for ERMA’s discretion. Precaution is an option, not a requirement under the law governing ERMA. However, a number of Northland councils have developed policies requiring precaution with respect to the management of GMO risks.

Community Management of GMOs II: Risks and Response Options was written by Simon Terry Associates and Mitchell Partnerships, and is accompanied by a related legal opinion from Dr Royden Somerville QC.

Dr Somerville’s legal review of the report stated that it provided a sufficient foundation for the preparation of a change to the district plan to allow a council to manage GMO risks, should councils choose that course of action.

WDC Monitoring Team Leader and chairman of the Inter-Council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options, Dr Kerry Grundy, said the collaborative approach undertaken by local authorities in the Northland peninsula has been a cautious yet responsible way to proceed with this contentious issue.

“It is an excellent example of local government working together to address common concerns raised by their respective communities. It has also been a fiscally responsible approach to adopt. By sharing the costs of research and possible regulation among all local authorities in the North Auckland/ Northland region, the cost to individual councils and to ratepayers has been kept to a minimum.”

The report, and its recommendations, will be discussed by each of the Northern councils at their up-coming meetings. Also being provided to councils is an independent review of the report by Karen Cronin of Victoria University along with a covering Briefing Paper by Dr Grundy.

ENDS


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