Battle to keep GMO free heats up

By Sophie Price

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A group of local farming stalwarts are throwing their weight behind Hastings District Council to fight for the district to stay GMO free.
A group of local farming stalwarts are throwing their weight behind Hastings District Council to fight for the district to stay GMO free.

A group of local farming stalwarts is throwing its weight behind Hastings District Council as it prepares to fight for the district to stay GMO free.

Later this year the council will head to the Environment Court to defend its genetically modified organism free policy - a policy currently being appealed by Federated Farmers.

To help with the legal battle, GMO Free group Pure Hawke's Bay, including members John Bostock, Bruno Chambers, David Mason and John Buck, are hoping to raise $150,000 to assist in legal costs.

Mr Chambers, Pure HB's president, said having a GMO free region creates more economic and marketing opportunities.

"It means as Hastings producers we can tell buyers and customers that produce grown in our fields is officially GMO free," he said.

"It adds more value to our exports and creates significant economic benefits for Hawke's Bay. If we can't claim this, we loose our competitive global advantage."

In May last year, backed by leading Hawke's Bay food producers, Hastings District Council became the first in New Zealand to secure the territory's GMO free food producer status under its district plan.

Despite this initiative enjoying support from producers and the wider community, the court case still looms.

The GMO free district plan policy change that is being challenged by Federated Farmers was made last year under the Resource Management Act.

Just yesterday it was reported that the lobby group maintained in a similar court case up north that it is the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, not the RMA, that is the relevant overarching document, and sits outside the scope of local authorities.

Katie Milne, Federated Farmers local government spokeswoman, said the group maintained its position that such a decision to go GMO free should be made by central government, not councils.

"It is better when the whole country gets to decide on policies and there is a rigorous process involved," she said.

"Rather than it being perhaps being swayed by sections of the community that don't necessarily reflect the whole community.

"But everyone is certainly entitled to having their view on these things we certainly feel decisions like that should be left with central."

Mr Chambers said along with more than 100 other growers, pastoral farmers and exporters are on a mission to drum up support to protect the region's high value food exports.

"Pure Hawke's Bay will be backing Hastings District Council in court and has started a significant fundraising drive to raise the $150,000 needed to put forward a winning legal and economic case.

"We are confident we can secure Hastings' valuable GMO free status in law, but Hawke's Bay's support is crucial to winning this legal battle and influencing politicians when it comes to making decisions on the Resource Management Act changes."

Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said he welcomed the support - with his council seemingly fighting a battle on two fronts.

The council's move is also threatened by proposed changes to the RMA, which would see the Government take away councils' powers to establish GM Free Zones.

"Hawke's Bay food producers and the Hastings council are best placed to know what is right for our local economy," Mr Chambers said. "We shouldn't have this democratic right taken away.

"We need the Government to work alongside us to keep Hastings GMO free and help position Hawke's Bay as a premium food-producing region in the competitive global marketplace."

This is why Mr Chambers, along with more than 100 other growers, pastoral farmers and exporters are on a mission to drum up support to protect the region's high value food exports.

"Pure Hawke's Bay will be backing Hastings District Council in court and has started a significant fundraising drive to raise the $150,000 needed to put forward a winning legal and economic case," he said.

As well as this financial support, the group supports council's GMO free policy visually with billboards.

Mr Chambers says Pure Hawke's Bay wants to hear from anyone keen to put up a GM free billboard on their property or support the campaign in any way.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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