Environment Minister Amy Adams has confirmed she will block councils from setting their own rules on genetically modified organisms, saying that central Government's controls on GM trials and releases were strict enough.
The minister was challenged in Parliament yesterday after the Herald revealed she was investigating attempts by North Island councils to introduce higher standards on GMOs in their planning documents.
Ms Adams said in the House that she was concerned that councils were trying to go against central Government's rules on new organisms.
"Local councils are local councils - they operate under the national framework. There has never been the ability for them to rewrite national rules that they don't like.
"And if councils have concerns about the way GM regulation in New Zealand works, they should raise those with the [Environment Protection Agency] and attempt to address the legislation on a national basis. They should not set up their own independent states..."
She said she would amend the Resource Amendment Act to clarify who was responsible for regulating GMOs.
Her proposed amendments disappointed local authorities, who felt that central Government's GM rules were not tough enough and left them liable for the costs of an adverse event caused by genetically engineered technology.
Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said it was unfair for councils to cop the potential costs of contamination when they did not make the decisions to approve a trial or release of GM organisms.
Mr Yule, who is Mayor of Hastings, said his region wanted to to put a moratorium on GM for ten years because it believed this would give its wine and food products a greater advantage in export markets. Under Ms Adam's proposals, the council would not be able to reject a GM trial or release in their region which was approved by the Environment Protection Agency.
Auckland Council was also considering a ban on GM releases and also a policy of making organisations prove they could cover the cost of a GE contamination before a trial was approved.
Green Party GE spokesman Steffan Browning questioned why the Government's stance had changed since 2010, citing comments by former Environment Minister Nick Smith which appeared to support councils in developing their own GM policy.
In a letter to an inter-council working party on genetic engineering in 2010, Dr Smith said GMOs were best controlled by national legislation, but that this "did not preclude a council from restricting or preventing the use of GMOs in their region".
Ms Adams argued that the National-led Government had been consistent on the issue, and pointed to Crown Law advice from 2003 which said it was not a good idea for councils to regulate GMOs under their own plans.
The minister said communities could be confident that legislation provided a robust system of controls and set a high bar for the entry of GMOs into New Zealand.