Auckland Council and the Government are on a collision course over rules for genetically modified crops after councillors decided to propose stricter rules on GM trials in the region - despite the environment minister warning them not to.
Auckland councillors voted to introduce new standards in the region's draft planning document which were designed to increase protection for food-producing regions and vineyards and protect local government from the potential costs of a genetically modified organism (GMO) outbreak.
In June, Environment Minister Amy Adams warned councils against setting their own rules, saying that central government's controls on GM trials and releases were strict enough. The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is primarily responsible for regulating new organisms in New Zealand.
But an inter-council working party believed that government legislation did not adequately cover local government or primary producers in the event of a GM-related adverse event.
Auckland Council has now adopted the recommendation of the working party, which concluded that councils were entitled to set their own rules through the Resource Management Act.
If adopted in the final version of the Unitary Plan, the council's amendment would emphasise a precautionary approach to GM releases. Companies or agencies which wanted to trial new organisms would have to prove they could cover the costs of an adverse event before getting the green light.
Councillor Wayne Walker, the chairman of the Environment and Sustainability Forum, said: "It doesn't outright close the doors on genetically modified organisms, but it certainly picks up where [central government agencies] don't go, which is around the issues of liability and cost.
"It's the community that will suffer if there happened to be a release that went wrong, as so many of them have overseas.''
Ms Adams contested this. She said legal advice provided to her office made it clear that if councils did not include rules in their local plan to control GMOs then they would not be liable for any environmental damage resulting from a GMO.
Auckland Council's amendment will still have to be notified, consulted on, and approved by an independent commission.
It is likely to be blocked by Government. Ms Adams plans to change the law to prevent councils from making region-specific rules as part of Resource Management reforms expected to be introduced to Parliament later this year.
Other councils have gone further than Auckland Council. Whangarei District Council has agreed in principle to banning the release of GMOs into the environment and making field trials of GMOs a discretionary activity.
Hastings District Council is planning a moratorium on GM for 10 years because it believes this would give its food and wine products a greater advantage in export markets.