by Steffan Browning
This weekend, Minister for the Environment Amy Adams followed through with an earlier threat to initiate legislative changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA), which include removing councils’ ability to control genetically modified organisms through their local plans. This is legislation to allow contamination and community conflict. It must be stopped!
Councils including Bay of Plenty, Hastings, Napier and Auckland and those in Northland are all in various stages of setting precautionary approaches to genetically engineered (GE) organisms releases in their plans, but the RMA reforms outlined last Saturday are intended to stop this.
Councils have studied the threats of GE releases and understand the lack of liability protection for themselves and their communities whose economic base includes a GE free status. Contamination is inevitable should GE be released, yet farmers or the council currently have only the option of a civil claim for damages when contamination happens. It appears that no commercial insurance is available for GE contamination yet the costs are very real.
The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) does not include any meaningful protections for conventional non-GE or organic producers whose livelihoods are at risk, yet that is what the Environment Minister is relying on.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) – which makes decisions around GE releases whether for laboratory work, field trials, or full release – does not deal with the economic downsides of GE.
The EPA cannot fund decontamination, nor control GE once fully released. This leaves councils, farmers and communities to pick up the tab for the costs of GE contamination, and the National Government is limiting their ability to protect themselves.
The Australian situation of farmer pitted against farmer in court while GE contamination marches on reducing farmer price premiums should be a strong enough message to Minister Amy Adams. She appears grossly uninformed.
It seems that the only real protection will come through a change in government, followed by changes to HSNO and the RMA. Then we can protect the growers and communities that want to enjoy the benefits of our clean green, GE free, 100% Pure Aotearoa New Zealand reputation.
The Minister’s plans are set out in her just released summary of proposals which you can download.
The relevant section below outlines their plan and rationale:
Hazardous substances and new organisms
The explicit function for councils to control hazardous substances and the ability for councils to control new organisms (GMOs) through the RMA will be removed. This is considered to be best managed under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 and by the Environmental Protection Authority.
The removal of the explicit function for councils to control hazardous substances will not limit councils’ abilities to use land use controls to avoid hazardous substances events where appropriate under the RMA, but it will remove the perceived need for RMA controls in all circumstances. The functions for regional councils and territorial authorities, in combination with part 2 of the RMA, will still allow enough scope for councils to control hazardous substances where appropriate. This will be confirmed in updated guidance on hazardous substances management.
The removal of the ability for councils to control GMOs will mean council plans cannot be used to control new organisms and GMOs. A national level approach to managing GMOs ensures consistency throughout New Zealand and given the technical complexity of assessing GMO applications ensures that one agency (the EPA) is adequately resourced to provide this service. The EPA has the necessary risk assessment, legal, policy and scientific expertise required to consider GMO applications.
The proposal to restrict RMA controls on GMOs will not weaken the existing regulatory framework under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, rather it will prevent duplication, confusion and the complication that would arise from controls being imposed on a council by council basis.