Far North District councillors have joined their Whangārei counterparts in voting unanimously to appeal a controversial Northland Regional Council decision over genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In July regional councillors voted narrowly to leave precautionary rules against GMOs out of their proposed Northland Regional Plan, sparking an outcry from environmental groups.

It also put the regional council at odds with the Far North and Whangārei district councils and Auckland Council's Unitary Plan.

Earlier this month Whangārei district councillors voted to appeal the regional council's decision in the Environment Court, and yesterday Far North District councillors voted to join them.


The only concern raised by councillors was the cost of the appeal, which will see ratepayers stumping up for lawyers' fees on both sides of the legal battle.

Council staff said the likely cost was about $70,000 but it could be shared with the Whangārei District Council. They also said the potential cost to the council and Northland agribusiness could run into millions of dollars if GMOs were released.

Deputy mayor Tania McInnes, who chaired Thursday's council meeting, said she hoped a new regional council would reconsider, averting the need for a costly appeal.

''I'm sure everyone's aware it's caused quite a backlash,'' she said.

Councillor John Vujcich said he understood the possible advantages of the technology, in medicine for example, but he was concerned about the financial risk if the council did not adopt a precautionary approach to releasing GMOs into the environment.

''The council is generally the last man standing, and I'd hate the council to face millions in legal action from organic farmers who've gone under.''

Kerikeri organic farmer and GE-Free Northland spokesman Marty Robinson welcomed the district council's decision, saying it showed the regional council was ''out of touch'' and not listening to its constituents.

The regional councillors whose votes saw GMO precautions left out of the Regional Plan defended their decision by saying the technology could some day provide New Zealand with solutions to environmental challenges such as kauri dieback or introduced pests, or help reduce greenhouse gases without undermining the economy.


It's not the first time there has been legal action between the Far North District and Northland Regional councils but usually it's the other way around.

In April the regional council took the district council to the Environment Court for ongoing breaches of its consent conditions at Paihia's sewage plant.