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Regional council to support inclusion of coastal GMO provisions

17 Jun 2020, 7:52 AM

A ‘finely balanced’ decision by a previous Northland Regional Council not to include provisions covering genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in its Proposed Regional Plan has been overturned Tuesday, 16 June by its successors.

The council in place before last October’s local body elections ruled out including GMO provisions after a long process during which councillors heard and considered expert scientific evidence and feedback from more than 80 submissions over several years.

However, the previous council had effectively been evenly split into two camps on the issue, with a ‘finely balanced’ decision passing only after the council’s former chair used a casting vote.

In the wake of that decision, both the Whangarei and Far North District Councils filed an appeal with the Environment Court seeking provisions be added to the Proposed Regional Plan (which is effectively the rulebook for the way Northland’s water, air, soil and coast is managed).

The district councils’ appeal – which sought provisions controlling GMOs in the Coastal Marine Area (CMA) – was supported by a host of other parties, but opposed by three; Life Sciences Network, Biotech NZ and Federated Farmers.

The local body elections in October saw a number of new regional councillors elected and the new council had collectively confirmed in January this year that while they would not officially change their predecessors’ position, they would take a ‘back seat’ during the appeal proceedings.

Current council chair Penny Smart says that meant the council would not take an active role in the appeal, including offering any evidence.

“Effectively, council was content to leave it to the other appeal parties (who represented both sides of the argument) to present the evidence and respective positions on GMOs to the court.”

However, since then the three parties opposing the appeals had withdrawn, meaning the court would only hear from those supporting inclusion of provisions.

Against that backdrop, the current council had re-examined its position, collectively agreeing yesterday (Tuesday, 16 June) that including coastal GMO provisions in its Regional Plan would better achieve the purpose of the Resource Management Act and other plans including its Regional Policy Statement and the NZ Coastal Policy Statement.

Chair Smart says including coastal GMO provisions would also ensure consistency with the way the issue is approached on land under the Far North and Whangarei District Plans as well as with Auckland Council which has GMO provisions for its CMA.

The regional council would now work with parties involved in the Environment Court process to confirm the wording to be included in the Proposed Plan and then file it with the court for sign-off.