Local chefs putting Bay's GMO issue on the menu

By Sophie Price

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PURE PRODUCE: St Georges Restaurant owner Francky Godinho has gotten behind the PureHB GMO Free campaign. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
PURE PRODUCE: St Georges Restaurant owner Francky Godinho has gotten behind the PureHB GMO Free campaign. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Local chefs are putting GM free food where their mouths are - joining the Pure Hawke's Bay campaign to keep the Hastings District free of genetically modified food.

The first chef to step up in support of the campaign was owner of the North Island's largest grower restaurant St Georges Restaurant, Francky Godinho.

Ninety per cent of produce for his restaurant is harvested from two garden sites.

"I get my hands dirty producing and picking GM Free vegetables to serve at St Georges restaurant every day," he said.

"We market ourselves on our pure image, we don't want to damage this."

Passionate about delivering dishes that represent Hawke's Bay, Mr Godinho believes the only way forward is to keep the region's reputation intact.

"The Bay is such a big growing region and it doesn't need GM - the soil is already good," he said.

"GM plants need other things to boost them, they are using more and more pesticides - it's not just that GM plants aren't natural, they also bring many other problems," he said.

Clearview head chef Peter Hallgarth said the Bay is viewed both nationally and internationally as a frontrunner in organic and sustainable dining. "We have a really unique culture of produce here, I think if we introduced GM it would kill that," Mr Hallgarth said.

Michelin star chef and owner of Napier's Bistronomy Restaurant, James Beck, said changes to growing practices could diminish quality of taste.

He said if GMOs were to be introduced locally, it would take the choice away from those who don't want any part of it.

"They would still be affected, there would be no avoiding the inevitable - once you start there's no control, that's why it is great to see our local growers taking a stand."

This support comes in the wake of Hastings District Council becoming the first in New Zealand to secure the territory's GM free food producer status under its local plan - a move supported by Pure HB.

It was a move Massey University molecular genetics scientist, Professor Barry Scott said was unnecessary as New Zealand probably has the most stringent regulatory environment around GMOs in the world.

In an interview earlier this year, Professor Scott said the risks associated with GMOs are no different to those with any naturally occurring organism.

He said in regards to GMOS there have been a lot of 'fear' scenarios generated most of which cannot be substantiated scientifically."

He said that like any technology there was always the potential for harm, that even from traditional plant breeding it must be safe for human and animal consumption.

"Gene technology is much more precise, the science is now well developed, whole genomes of any organism can now be sequenced so there is a lot more knowledge and a lot less uncertainty," he said.

Currently Federated Farmers is challenging the Hastings decision in the Environment Court, despite many pastoral farmers, objecting to this move.

Pure HB is backing the council financially in the Environment Court and has started a significant fundraising drive to raise the $150,000 needed to put forward a legal case for its stance.

Talking on the chef's comments, Federated Farmers Hawke's Bay provincial president Will Foley said the chefs could cook and sell GM free Hawke's Bay produced food now.

He countered Mr Beck's argument about controlling the organisms, saying this is why the release is controlled by central government authority and to date none have.

"That is what Federated Farmers wants to support, the current regime," he said.

"There is no specific GMO Federated Farmers wants released. We just want the decision left to a national body.

"If something happened to be released in a neighbouring district to Hastings how would Hastings control their borders?"

- Hawkes Bay Today

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