Sixteen thousand submitters from all over New Zealand opposed the former government's sneaky attempt last year to allow the indiscriminate planting of GE trees anywhere in the country. A large chunk of those submissions came from Tai Tokerau and Tamaki, a region stretching from the Bombay hills north to Cape Reinga, where outdoor use of GMOs is not allowed.

The National Party's goal? Override any precautionary or prohibitive GE policies, provisions, and rules in local councils plans and destroy our valuable enforceable GE Free zones.

Since 2003, Northland and Auckland councils have worked collaboratively and in a fiscally responsible manner to put into place an additional tier of local protection against the risks of outdoor use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), much needed because of serious inadequacies in the national legislation (Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act).

GE-Free Northland, foresters with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) certification, and many other primary producers were pleased to learn that controversial clause 6.4 had been removed, when the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) released the new Environmental Standards (NES) for Plantation Forestry in August.

Advertisement

The new NES-PF gives foresters, councils, and communities clear guidelines on how to protect the environment while achieving a sustainable forestry industry (although many submitters requested stronger provisions to protect indigenous trees, wildlife habitats, and ecosystems).

Public pressure on MPI resulted in the agency removing the controversial clause (which MPI added at the eleventh hour without consulting the NZ Farm Forestry Association, Forest and Bird, or other key stakeholders) from the new NES-PF. A packed room at Forum North, Whangarei, saw the toes of MPI bureaucrats from Wellington held to a hot fire.

Despite the former government's push for risky outdoor GE experiments and releases in NZ, MPI backed down in the face of the 16,000-plus submissions opposing the GE tree clause coupled with the Maori Party's demanding removal of the clause.

Introducing GE trees would have greatly increased the risk of transgenic contamination. Ordinary pine pollen travels hundreds of kilometres even at moderate wind speeds, thousands of kilometres with stronger winds. Pine pollen creates allergies, gets into waterways, and is even found in the ocean at depths of more than 10,000m.

Both the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), global certification bodies for sustainable forestry, prohibit GE trees in their certified forests, due to the serious ecological risks, their commitment to the precautionary principle, and market aversion.

Parliament has now recognised in the RMA that local councils can regulate or ban outdoor use of GMOs in keeping with the wishes of farmers and other ratepayers. Our ability to establish GM-free producing zones under local plans is protected following changes to the Resource Legislation Amendment Act.

Fonterra, NZ Beef & Lamb, Dairy NZ, Zespri, Pure Hawke's Bay, Local Government NZ, various councils, primary producers, and many others called for protection against Wellington's imposing risky GE experiments or field trials on the regions, including trials involving GE trees.

The new government's commitment to reducing our net carbon emissions and planting millions of trees is very good news. The new Minister of Forestry, Shane Jones, will work to make appropriate use of steep marginal land, which should be planted in trees rather than erosion-causing activities.

Our capable new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, understands the importance of sustainable primary production, appropriately addressing climate change, improving water quality, and protecting the environment in general.

Primary producers and other Kiwis count on the excellent new government to protect the right of the regions to create enforceable GE-free zones and our access to key markets and premiums.

Zelka Grammer is a horticulturist/orchardist, keen seed saver and chairwoman of GE Free Northland.