Many Northlanders share serious concerns over letting loose genetically engineered (GE) organisms into our natural environment. Possums, stoats and wild ginger are but of a few of the 'bright ideas' that have had disastrous consequences. On Tuesday our council voted to let this happen in Northland. I was shocked and dismayed.

Here is what I said: "Genetic engineering, especially transgenics, is a highly contentious issue being pushed by Federated Farmers, who initiated a vexatious appeal against this council's GE provisions, only to withdraw it before it was heard in the Environment Court. But this did not mean there was an excuse to leave it out of submissions for our regional plan. I protested this at the time, citing the Feds' dismal past record of appealing various council GE provisions. I feel this was just a ruse to exclude the community from this very important debate.

"New Zealand's primary producers, conventional or organic, currently enjoy the huge marketing advantage of the Clean Green NZ theme. As we strive to extract premium returns on our high-grade produce, introducing genetic engineering would be a huge mistake, potentially excluding our primary producers from lucrative high-end markets.

"We received 83 submissions, 82 from the community, that supported GE provisions in our plan. Federated Farmers opposed it. At the end of the process we came to the agreement to have provisions only in the coastal marine area. I wanted to see land-based provisions introduced, testing the idea that GE is a contaminant in the Environment Court if it was challenged. I reluctantly agreed to having provisions only in the CMA as a compromise on my preferred position.

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"To have this issue re-litigated at the last moment is, in my opinion, a radical departure from a process that had worked well for us for the duration of our governance. To say that I am disappointed in the very irregular process that followed would be an understatement. To avoid our responsibility to enable our local communities to have a say whether they want GMOs released into their local environment is a gross abrogation of our duty of care.

"The move by the chairman to control this debate is a massive blow to local democracy, and undermines my faith in his ability to be impartial in this debate. I feel this council has been hijacked by Federated Farmers. I will vote against this motion to exclude GE from our regional plan."

The vote was carried with the casting vote of the chairman. As a council we operate on a policy of collective responsibility, and must support all council decisions. For that reason I'm not going to hoe into the debate here or diss the opinions of my fellow councillors who I disagree with. Check 5.1 on the link http://northland.infocouncil.biz/Open/2019/07/CO-20190716-AGN-2417-AT-WEB.htm to see what we could have had.

This lack of transparency and accountability needs to be challenged.

(These are my personal opinions, and not the official position of the NRC).

■mikef@nrc.govt.nz