The government's planned review of the appropriateness of local authorities being involved in regulating genetically-modified organisms was prompted by advice over a liver cancer treatment trial in Auckland according to Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith.
"A trial for the liver cancer vaccine Pexa-Vec, which involves a GMO, is being conducted at Auckland Hospital," he said.
"The new Auckland unitary plan prohibits the release of any GMO, and would not allow any such future medical treatments.
"It does not make sense for local councils to duplicate the role of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in regulating the use of GMOs in New Zealand.
The EPA has taken a very cautious approach, approving only two GMOs in 20 years - an equine flu vaccine and the Pexa-Vec trial.
"The problem with councils regulating in this area is that they do not have the technical expertise, resulting in regulations that have unintended consequences. The further problem is that there are no biosecurity controls between councils, so having different rules on what organisms are allowed in different districts becomes a nonsense."
The Northland Regional Council, Far North, Whangarei and Hastings District councils were proposing or had prohibitions on GMOs in their resource management policies, as did the Auckland unitary plan, which was subject to appeals until Thursday.
Earlier this month the High Court ruled that councils had jurisdiction under the Resource Management Act (RMA) to regulate the use of GMOs.
"The advice on the Pexa-Vec trial at Auckland Hospital is that it would be prohibited under Auckland's new plan. However, the RMA also provides for existing use rights, and because the trial is already under way, it can continue but could not be expanded," Dr Smith said.
"Any new programme involving another GMO treatment would also be prohibited in Auckland. I have been advised by the EPA that the use of GMOs in modern medicine is growing, and that they expect further applications."
He was seeking advice from the Ministry for the Environment on possible solutions.
Options included changing the law or regulations to clarify that approvals and controls on GMOs were to be determined by the EPA and not councils.
Any changes that might flow from the advice received would involve public consultation.