What a difference a word makes.

Animals are now included in the Northland policy banning trials or growing genetically modified organisms, following a successful court case to toughen up the talk.

After nearly five years of conflict, the latest war of words over the soft precautionary language in the anti-GMO policy came down to deleting just one word - plants.

Last week the Environment Court ruled in favour of Whangarei District Council's (WDC) case against Northland Regional Council's (NRC) precautionary stance in the Regional Policy Statement, agreeing the wording should not specify plants only.

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By deleting that word, all living organisms are now covered.

Ironically, having both fought side by side during years of court cases over GMO policy aspirations and wording — holding the line against central government agencies and Federated Farmers among others — both WDC and NRC are members of the Northland/Auckland Inter Council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation & Management Options.

Many groups, including GE Free Northland, Tai Tokerau iwi authorities, Northland primary producers, Far North District Council and health and other professional bodies, supported the district council's case to strengthen the policy's wording.

Federated Farmers (FF) appeared as a respondent to WDC's case against the NRC's policy statement, but for opposite reasons.

FF presented the same argument used in cases previously lost in the Environment and High Courts; that the NRC does not have jurisdiction to regulate GMOs, saying it was a central government role under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

But in his summary, principal Environment Court Judge Laurie Newhook described FF's submissions as "curious, to say the least" and "difficult to follow in logic".

Zelka Grammer, chairwoman for GE Free Tai Tokerau, said the Regional Policy Statement can now become operational as all appeals on the GE/GMO issue have been resolved.

The Soil & Health Association has also welcomed the outcome.

"The court's decision is a victory for common sense and for the interests of all Northlanders concerned about the possible introduction of GMOs into the environment, whether they be plants, animals, insects or micro organisms," chairman Graham Clarke said.

"This is another win. If GMOs were to be released into the environment they would be very difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate. There is also potential for serious economic loss to regions marketing their products and tourism under New Zealand's 'clean green' brand, if GMO release were permitted."