Environment Minister Amy Adams has told Hawke's Bay growers they already have the ability to market their produce as free of genetically modified organisms and she doesn't support a law change to make the region an official GM-free zone.
Local growers lobby group Pure Hawke's Bay challenged Ms Adams on the issue when she visited the region yesterday. They took the opportunity to question her at a public meeting in Clive after placing a full-page advertisement in yesterday's Hawke's Bay Today.
The ad, in the form of an open letter to the minister, said being able to market the $1 billion of annual produce as GM-free was an "essential component of our competitive advantage".
"We need local plans to protect our GM Free status - only they can give us the certainty we need to brand our products as made in 'GM Free Hawke's Bay'," the letter said.
"Don't change the Resource Management Act and prevent our councils from passing the laws we need to remain competitive."
Ms Adams said she did not support the idea of enabling regional councils to set specific GM rules for their areas because that was a function best kept with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and standardised across the country.
"The region can market itself as GE-free now. The reality is there are no GM-produced or released plants or animals in New Zealand. We are GE-free in that respect," she said.
"The issue is really around whether it's sensible and appropriate for councils to be setting up their own rules or whether these things should be nationally regulated.
"We don't have councils re-writing the road code because they think they can do a better job.
"There are some things we regulate nationally, this is one of them and I think it's an appropriate place for it."
One of the region's major corporate growers, John Bostock, challenged Ms Adams' stance, telling the Clive meeting: "We don't believe the EPA is the appropriate place for local communities to develop their own economic and branding interests."
He said branding produce to maximise its appeal to international markets was expensive and time-consuming, so the industry needed certainty through rules that ensured Hawke's Bay remained GM-free.
"The certainty of some rules will give the branding credibility," he said.
The Clive meeting was chaired by Ms Adams' Cabinet colleague and Tukituki MP Craig Foss.
Mr Foss' Labour Party opponent for the Tukituki seat, Anna Lorck, said later that by following the Government line articulated by Ms Adams, Mr Foss was not supporting his electorate.
"He should be listening to Hawke's Bay growers," she said.
"We want to see Hawke's Bay lead the way and work with what Pure Hawke's Bay are wanting to deliver."