Katie Milne: It's still the govt's job

Katie Milne
Katie Milne

Federated Farmers has reviewed its legal position on the GMO issue in the Northland RPS, and remains strongly of the view that the central government agency with the mandate and expertise is best placed to assess science and safety aspects.

Recent legal advice to the Federation was that amendments to the Resource Management Act meant our Court of Appeal action was less likely to succeed. We concluded it would be more productive to sit down with the Northland local authorities and try to work out where the new boundaries on their jurisdiction to manage genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in Northland now lie.

Read more: Big win for GE-Free Northland

From our point of view, the broader principle is that citizens, including farmers, should be free to do things that have been approved by the Environment Protection Agency.

Would any sane person argue, for example, that councils should be permitted to ban a certain type of road vehicle that has been permitted by the Land Transport Agency? If, in the future, the EPA approves a GMO for commercial use, farmers should be permitted to use it, as long as that use is in accordance with EPA's conditions of release. That right shouldn't be cancelled at the whim of a council.

"From our point of view, the broader principle is that citizens, including farmers, should be free to do things that have been approved by the Environment Protection Agency."

This would not preclude local authorities from managing the GMO for non-GMO effects, but councils should not be able to restrict the GMO just because it is a GMO. That's why we took this particular case to court. It was about trying to prevent costly and unnecessary duplication between national and local regulations.

This type of technology must be used responsibly and be well regulated, so it's important all decisions around GMOs are managed robustly at central government level. Federated Farmers has a neutral stance on GMO technologies, but firmly believes that farmers, doctors, environmentalists and the public should be given choice.

There is an overwhelming case for the economic, health or environmental benefits of GMOs, whether that's for new technologies that will be needed to reach New Zealand's ambitious goal of becoming predator-free by 2050, new medical treatments such as the Pexa-Vec liver cancer trial, or new fodder technologies such as the high-energy grass developed by AgResearch, which, based on laboratory work, will increase production as well as decrease methane emissions, nitrogen leaching and water use, each by 20-40 per cent.

Genetic modification is already used in New Zealand in many medicines to fight cancer and treat conditions such as diabetes. It is used in animal vaccines, GM animal feed is imported, and in foods made using genetically-modified enzymes. Genetically-modified petunias have been growing in gardens here for the last five years.

Other Federation appeals with Northland councils remain live, and we look forward to working with them under the guidance of the Environment Court in the very near future.

- Northland Age

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