Auckland might hold the key to whether Northland councils make district plan changes that could see GMOs banned in the region before the end of this year.
The Far North and Whangarei District Councils have decided to investigate plan changes enabling them to regulate the use of GMOs - but are waiting to see if similar proposed changes to Auckland's plan get the go-ahead first.
The possibility of an entire Genetic Engineering-free block from South Auckland to Cape Reinga is closer with the Auckland Council's proposed unitary authority plan.
That move would mean cost-sharing as well as consistency between the Northland and Auckland councils, already partners in the Inter-Council Working Party on GMOs.
If Auckland takes the unitary lead, GE free provisions would apply to its huge landmass and coastal (aquaculture) environs.
Without Northland Regional Council being prepared to take a similar stance, the Northland district councils' plan changes would apply only to land activities.
However, the changes would make GE trials discretionary activities requiring resource consents which would open the way to impose tough restrictions, Inter-Council Working Party team leader Kerry Grundy said.
Increasingly, councils around New Zealand were looking at similar plan changes, Dr Grundy said. Hastings District Council has already declared its district GE free, and other mainly wine and horticultural-based regions were working toward it.
An Auckland unitary authority precautionary stance would give the kind of clout to the issue that small councils could not manage on their own, Dr Grundy said. Change could also be quite fast-acting even in a proposed form. An Auckland/Northland GE free zone could be effectively in place by October.
NRC has refused to include GMO precautionary statements in its proposed Regional Policy Statement, the submissions for which are currently being heard before independent commissioners. NRC staff said central Government's Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act provides protection enough.
The Green Party is in support of the Auckland, Far North and Whangarei councils shutting out GMO trials. Party spokesman Steffan Browning said without adequate regulation from central government the burden of risk is placed in the wrong place; on GE free farmers whose crops were contaminated, not neighbouring GE farms or industries which had caused the problem.