Federated Farmers New Zealand has withdrawn its appeal to the Court of Appeal over the Northland Regional Council's jurisdiction to manage genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but won't say at this stage whether it will do the same regarding a current appeal it has lodged against the Hastings District Council.
Last week, GE-Free Northland celebrated the decision by Federated Farmers to no longer seek the removal of provisions in the Northland council's regional policy statement to manage the outdoor use of GMOs in the region.
GE-Free Northland chairwoman Zelka Grammer urged Federated Farmers to withdraw "their other outstanding vexatious appeals against the Whangarei District Council, Far North District Council, the Auckland Unitary Plan, and the Hastings District Plan.
"The right of the regions to create enforceable GE-free zones and to protect primary producers' access to key markets and premiums must be protected," she said.
Federated Farmers president Katie Milne said of the Northland case that the farmers' lobby group had commissioned an external review of the appeal, which concluded that recent amendments to the Resource Management Act were likely to have materially reduced the prospects of the appeal being prosecuted successfully.
"Federated Farmers considers management decisions made by central government agencies, such as decisions made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on such matters as the use of GMOs, should not be able to be undermined or overridden by the whim of individual regional or district councils," she said.
All the appeals Federated Farmers had raised in relation to decisions made by councils about the use of GMOs were being treated on a "case by case" basis, she added.
"We are continuing to work on the Hastings District Council case and we can't say more about this case as it is before the court.
"We'd like to eventually sit down with local government and sort out what their role actually is on this issue, as we do with many other issues that could impact on our members' businesses."
Although Federated Farmers had a neutral stance on GMO technologies, it firmly believed that farmers, environmentalists, doctors and the public should be given choice, she said.
"If in the future the EPA approves a GMO for commercial use individual farmers should be permitted to use the GMO provided it is used in accordance with EPA's conditions of release, rather than an individual council arbitrarily banning them."
Ms Milne said this would not preclude councils from managing the GMO for non-GMO effects "but the councils should not be able to restrict the GMO just because it is a GMO.
"This is the reason that Federated Farmers took the Northland case, and others, to court. It was about trying to prevent costly and unnecessary duplication between national and local regulations."
Pure Hawke's Bay, a group of local food producers aiming to preserve Hawke's Bay's current status as a GM-Free food producing region, were preparing for the Federated Farmers appeal and while the Northland decision was a good sign, there was still a lot of uncertainty, said chairman Bruno Chambers.
He said Pure Hawke's Bay was seeking a meeting with Federated Farmers to try and progress its understanding of the organisation's stance.
"It would be nice if the Northland approach represented a sea change in their attitude that would flow on to where we are at."
He said at this point Hawke's Bay's GM-Free status was not depriving anyone of any choice because there were no GMOs lined up for field trials within the next 10 years.
"If something comes along that turns out to be great, in 10 years time when the district plan is being renewed it can be looked at again."
He said mediation was an option, and any actions to avoid the expense of going to court would be beneficial for all parties.