A GE-free Northland is another step closer after councillors in the Far North and Whangarei backed proposed district plan changes banning the release of any genetically modified organisms.
At a meeting in Kaitaia's Te Ahu Centre Thursday, Far North District Council councillors voted unanimously to notify a proposal to change its District Plan by placing strict controls on the use of GMOs in the district. The public can now make submissions, with the final decision likely to be made by a panel of commissioners.
Whangarei District councillors voted to push ahead with a similar plan change on Wednesday.
If passed, Proposed Plan Change 18 will require anyone planning a GMO field trial to apply for a resource consent, pay a bond to the council in case it caused any damage, for example to neighbouring crops, and ensure ongoing monitoring. The release of GMOs would be illegal and no resource consent could be applied for. The only permitted GMO activities would be in laboratories or veterinary vaccines.
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Cr Ann Court warned, however, that Thursday's vote was likely to be only the start of "a very long journey". Mayor John Carter urged anyone with a view on the proposal, for or against, to make a submission.
Councillors were to debate the GMO ban last month but changes to the Resource Management Act meant a more detailed cost-benefit analysis had to be carried out first.
That analysis questioned claims that GM crops increased productivity, giving evidence that similar or better gains could be achieved through breeding. It also highlighted the potentially huge costs and loss of export markets, jobs and economic growth that would follow GMO contamination of the food chain.
"It is unclear whether economic growth and employment would increase as a result of the plan change. However, it would ensure these were not reduced by GM contamination incidents," the authors said.
The report added that Northland producers could benefit from marketing opportunities provided by a GMO ban. An informal GE-Free Zone would be cheaper than a formal plan change, but it would not be legally enforceable.
The costs of the plan change and any legal challenges will be shared with Whangarei. Auckland has similar provisions in its Unitary Plan.