It's not quite all over bar the shouting but Whangarei District Council has given a big green tick to banning genetically modified organisms from its patch.

A proposed district plan change was unanimously approved yesterday at the last District Living Committee meeting of this council's term.

The plan change could effectively ban GMO releases by turning field trials approved by the central government Environment Protection Authority into a discretionary activity.

That means should the EPA sanction local experiments, they might not get past the front door; being subject to local requirements and liability provisions outlined in the district plan. The changes could yet go through an appeals process.


It's another round in a David and Goliath clash which sees a growing number of local authorities stand against the Government's position that there are adequate GMO precautions in its own legislation.

Whangarei is the last member on the significant Inter-Council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Option (ICWP), comprising all Northland and Auckland City councils, to approve a plan change in principle.

Yesterday's go-ahead has been hailed by councillors, staff, lobby groups and other agencies as a welcome result following 10 years of local GMO debate, over 5500 signatories on district plan submissions calling for the precautionary approach and several years' collaboration with the ICWP.

Cr Crichton Christie thanked Futures Planning team leader and ICWP convener Kerry Grundy for the work that had gone into the task. Mr Christie said he would like to see GMOs banned altogether but was "happy about where [the district plan change] is now".

Cr John Williamson said he was frustrated over a lack of balance in the report accompanying the agenda item. A hungry world - or local farmers - might appreciate a seed that survived three weeks under water and still produced a grass that made cows give more milk.

"There is a pro-GMO case but I bow to democracy and I strongly support the precautionary approach," Cr Williamson said.

Acting mayor Phil Halse and retiring councillor Aaron Edwards spoke about the massive public support and inter-council cooperation involved to this stage, and the need to keep the momentum going.

GE Free Northland spokesperson Zelka Grammer said yesterday's stamp of approval was "very exciting".