Northland could become a genetically modified organism-free zone, with the region's councils looking at setting up strict GMO controls along with their counterparts in Auckland.
An inter-council working party, representing all local authorities in Northland and Auckland, has recommended that territorial authorities in both regions consider regulating the outdoor use of GMOs under the Resource Management Act (RMA) through provisions in their planning documents.
It could include a ban on outdoor use of GMOs and consents needed for GMO field trials as part of Northland's Regional Policy Statement.
GE Free Northland, which has been lobbying for a GMO ban since 2002, welcomed the proposal.
"As small producers, [New Zealand] needs to listen to the market and not try to drive the market," spokesman Martin Robinson said.
If the working party's proposal is accepted, the objectives, policies and rules will be inserted in existing district plans, prohibiting the release of GMOs to the environment and making field trialling a discretionary activity, subject to strict liability conditions for any environmental or economic harm that may eventuate.
The working party has produced draft planning provisions, a section 32 evaluation supporting those provisions, and a legal opinion from Dr Royden Somerville QC.
The evaluation confirmed there were potentially significant risks to local government and their communities from outdoor use of GMOs, including environmental, economic and socio-cultural risks.
There was also considerable uncertainty, including scientific uncertainty, and lack of information about those risks.
According to the draft, the potential adverse effects of releasing GMOs into the environment could be significant, including possible major and long-term harm.
Under the national level regulation of GMOs, affected parties, including existing primary producers and councils, will tend to bear any costs arising from unexpected events and ineffective regulation of GMOs.
Dr Kerry Grundy, convener of the working party, said the collaborative approach had been a cautious yet responsible way to proceed with the contentious and complex issue.