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Control of outdoor genetically modified organisms closer

Media Release

Council brings control of outdoor use of genetically modified organisms a step closer

Introducing a robust, legal way for local government to manage the risks posed by outdoor use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a step closer following a decision by Whangarei District Council’s District Living Committee.

The Committee has decided, in principle, to proceed with changes to its District Plan, drafted by the Inter Council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options led by WDC Team Leader - Futures Planning, Dr Kerry Grundy.

A study by the working party of Northland and Auckland councils provided evidence that outdoor use of GMOs poses significant environmental, economic and socio-cultural risks to communities and local government and could and should be controlled through councils’ District Plans.

Whangarei District Council yesterday decided to approve this approach in the Whangarei District, once it had become clear what approach the Auckland Council (the largest Council represented on the working party) would be taking.

The study, completed under section 32 of the Resource Management Act, justifies councils putting controls on outdoor uses of GMOs into their District Plans and states that the courts have supported a precautionary approach by councils.

Chairman of Whangarei District Council’s District Living Committee Shelley Deeming said the unanimous decision by Whangarei District Council was the result of ten years of effort between councils and the community.

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“Our council acknowledges the important role that working cooperatively with other councils has played in the strength of this move. We have maximised our joint resources to assess risk in a systematic way and decide how to address them in a way that is workable,” she said.

The inter-council working party, representing all local authorities in Northland and Auckland, has recommended to member councils that they regulate the outdoor use of GMOs under the Resource Management Act (RMA) through provisions in their planning documents.

“Under the Environmental Protection Agency there is currently no protection for anyone who is adversely affected by the introduction of GMOs or a system for compensating them if the use is in accord with an approval from that agency,” Councillor Deeming said.

“The working party’s approach enables councils to put provisions specific to their localities into their District Plans, under the Resource Management Act, which can provide a way to ensure precautions are taken and provide for people to be compensated if they are harmed through the outdoor use of GMOs

“It enables local authorities to take leadership in an area where central government is not,” she said.

She paid tribute to the long term guidance and expertise provided by Dr Kerry Grundy who has lead the working group and provided council with sound research on which this ground breaking decision could be based.

The working party included representatives from Whangarei District, Auckland, Kaipara District, Far North District and Northland Regional Councils.

“Under the proposed plan change, people will still be able to apply to make use of GMOs but it would put in place remedies for any unexpected outcomes.”

Cr Deeming said it is important to note that for a plan change to be completed a public process involving consultation, submissions, hearings and decisions would need to take place.

“This decision puts Whangarei in a ground breaking position as leaders in an innovative process for taking local responsibility for local outcomes.”

Dr Kerry Grundy, convener of the Working Party, says the collaborative approach to the issue of GMOs in the environment undertaken by local authorities in the Northland and Auckland regions has been a cautious yet responsible way to proceed with this contentious and complex issue.

“It is an excellent example of local government working together to address common concerns raised by their respective communities.

“This (report) is a comprehensive evaluation that has been undertaken over a long period of time. It has provided a robust and comprehensive examination of the issue of GMOs in the environment. That includes an evaluation of the risks arising from outdoor use of GMOs and options to manage those risks.”

Dr Grundy said the documentation provides sufficient information to make an informed decision over management options for outdoor uses of GMOs and sufficient analysis and support to justify councils changing their district and/or unitary plans to manage GMOs if they decided to go that way.


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