The judge has reserved her decision in Federated Farmers New Zealand's (FFNZ) appeal against the Environment Court ruling that local authorities can use the Resource Management Act to regulate genetically engineered organisms in their patch.

Justice Mary Peters reserved her decision after the two-day hearing ended in the High Court at Whangarei yesterday.

In an Environment Court decision in May last year, after FFNZ had challenged Northland Regional (NRC) and Whangarei District councils' precautionary GMO policies, Judge Laurie Newhook ruled that local authorities did have that power.

The farming sector group's appeal is based on their argument that Judge Newhook's decision amounted to "an error of law". FFNZ's counsel Richard Gardiner kicked the matter off with the case that local government "has no role" legislating about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).


He said the Northland Regional Council's proposed policy statement concerning GMOs "overlooked the adequacy of central government rules". FFNZ maintains the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, not the RMA, is the relevant overarching document, and sits outside the scope of local authorities.

However, on behalf of NRC, John Burns argued there is existing jurisdiction to include GMO provisions in [regional policies] and the Environment Court did not commit any error of law.

Mr Burns said the NRC's proposed policy statement did not amount to either the "control or regulation" of GMOs. It was, though, a function of the council to enact the RMA through preparing policies in relation to effects that could be harmful to the use, development or protection of regionally significant land.

Graeme Mathias argued along similar lines for Whangarei District Council.

The hearing ended yesterday, after cases were put forward on behalf of the NRC, WDC, GE Free Northland, Soil and Health Association and Tai Tokerau iwi groups.