The four council members whose votes saw anti-GMO rules scrapped from the Proposed Northland Regional Plan have explained why they disregarded 82 out of 83 submissions on the matter.

In the process they drew a long bow by implying their position aligned with the Green Party.

They cited Green's co-leader James Shaw as one of the ''responsible voices'' calling for a serious public debate about the use of GMOs in reducing agricultural greenhouse emissions.

Northland Regional Council chairman Bill Shepherd, David Sinclair (deputy chairman), John Bain and Rick Stolwerk issued a statement defending their reasons for excluding GMO-regulatory measures.


Some commentators, including vociferous lobby group GE Free's Northland and NZ organisations, have suggested the email they sent to media is a desperate measure. The men ''are now feeling the heat in election year'' after ousting GMO-prohibitive language from Northland's environmental-governing plan, GE Free said.

The only submission calling for the same stance the men took was from farming lobby group Federated Farmers New Zealand.

But Shepherd's, Bain's, Sinclair's and Stolwerk's decision may have been based on hope more than science. There might come a time when GMO materials prove useful in solving some regional problems, they said in their statement.

''At some time in the future, GMO technologies may be able to provide New Zealand with the tools to deal with [some] environmental challenges that we face from biosecurity incursions like kauri dieback, myrtle rust, fanworm, possums and stoats, and maybe even help to reduce greenhouse gas production in order to combat climate change, without undermining our economy.''

Does Northland have a level field without GMO/GE precautions in its environmental plan?
Does Northland have a level field without GMO/GE precautions in its environmental plan?

The reference to James Shaw's and others' ''responsible voices'' included the Government's former chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman and the recently released Productivity Commission report. The report raised the subject of genetically engineered ryegrass's potential to reduce agricultural emissions.

But the Greens said the NRC members had ''grossly misrepresented'' what Shaw meant.

A spokesman said Shaw had merely acknowledged former Gluckman's comments and the report which suggested New Zealand was well-placed to lead the word in mitigating agricultural emissions.

The Greens recognised public debate was needed on how possible solutions to one problem might harm the country as a whole, the spokesman said.


''We see too much risk in adopting (genetic modification).''

Shepherd has since said that if he and the other NRC members had misinterpreted Shaw's comments or embarrassed him, they ''apologise unreservedly''.

The NRC's heftier Regional Policy Statement already supports a precautionary approach to GMOs, as do its partner councils, Whangārei and Far North Districts.

The change of tack in the NRC's Proposed Regional Plan is likely to end up in court, with Forest and Bird and GE Free New Zealand already indicating they will appeal the NRC decision.

The media statement, sent from Shepherd's private email address, said Northland doesn't need its own territorial regulations because GMO technologies and regulations are backed ''by all of the resources of the Crown'' - particularly the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

Those agencies protect Northland from being exposed to risks, Shepherd said. Plus, the NRC doesn't have the resources for compliance, monitoring and enforcement of GMOs - without putting up people's rates.

''We are totally opposed to transferring responsibility for the compliance, monitoring and enforcement of GMOs from the Crown to the ratepayers of Northland.
''Our role as regional councillors is to make decisions that are in the best interests of all of Northland's 180,000 plus residents and that is what we have done.''

He said the four were certain the process that had been followed would stand up to legal scrutiny.

Controversy has raged about that process - both the July 17 meeting where the chairman's casting vote overturned the status quo, and the earlier decision paving the way for that to happen when it was decided the council would hear the coastal marine zone submissions separately to commissioner-led hearings for the soil, water and air zones.

GE Free spokeswoman Zelka Grammer said Shepherd's explanation made ''further biased and misleading, factually inaccurate comments''. GE Free also challenges the notions the HSNO Act was adequate and Northland "was not exposed", she said.

''HSNO is not robust and the EPA continue to make flawed decisions [including] rubber stamping every outdoor GE/GMO application received by them since 1996, and various flawed decisions of EPA have been overturned in the High Court.''

Shepherd told the Northern Advocate he would make no further comment on the matter.

''There is little point in getting involved in a 'he says, she says' discussion,'' he said.