Northland Regional Council chairman Bill Shepherd's use of his casting vote to break a 4-4 deadlock over the issue of whether or not to include provisions for the management of genetically modified organisms in the council's proposed regional plan has outraged critics of the technology, who have vowed to fight it in court.
GE-Free Northland spokesman Martin Robinson said the "flawed" decision, that would fail to protect Northland's existing valuable GE-free status and biosecurity, flew in the face of the need for the plan to be in alignment with the Auckland Council's strong precautionary and prohibitive GE/GMO provisions in its unitary plan, strong district council, community and submitter support for such protection, and clear direction for such wording in the operative Northland regional policy statement.
"Earlier this year the NRC made a preliminary decision to place strong precautionary and prohibitive GE/GMO provisions in the Coastal Marine Area section of the new regional plan, but yesterday it failed to make a sound decision on the critically important GE/GMOs issue, ignoring the overwhelming scientific, legal, and cultural evidence presented by 99 per cent of submitters supporting GMO rules in the plan," Mr Robinson said.
"Our community group is also greatly concerned that the NRC also limited discussion on this important issue to the Coastal Marine Area (CMA) early on, rather than addressing the serious risks of outdoor use of GE/GMOs to Northland soils, waterways and land-based primary producers."
The process followed by the NRC regarding the genetic engineering issue had been highly controversial, he added, with a lack of transparency and the council wasting almost $14,000 of ratepayer funds this year "investigating" and "deliberating on" the already clearly resolved liability issue regarding GE/GMOs.
As a full member of the Northland/Auckland Inter-Council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options, the council was already aware that placing precautionary and prohibitive GMO provisions, policies and rules in local plans benefited both councils and their ratepayers, and reduced rather than increased liability.
"The council's CEO, Malcolm Nicolson, recently refused to accept robust independent scientific information (tabled by submitters) on the risks of GMOs, including gene-edited organisms that has come to light since last year's formal hearings," he added.
"The NRC also took the highly unusual and questionable step, just within the bounds of legality, in March 2018 to sideline the independent commissioners who heard all the other issues raised in the proposed regional plan for Northland process on the GE/GMOs issue.
"Northlanders who submitted on the important GE/GMOs issue had a clear expectation, after going through the NRC proposed new regional policy statement process years before, that they would be heard by unbiased, independent commissioners regarding the proposed new regional plan, but this was not to be."
GE-Free Northland chairwoman Zelka Grammer said, "Northland's valuable agricultural, horticultural, apiculture, pastoral, forestry sector, and 'Northland, Naturally' brand must be protected, as the Auckland Council has already achieved in its region, from outdoor use of GE/GMO.
"Our community group will seek relief against the NRC via legal action through the courts in order to protect the region's biosecurity, unique biodiversity, existing GE-free primary producers, economy, and valuable existing GE-free status. We support strong precautionary and prohibitive GE/GMO provisions, policies and objectives in the new regional plan for both land and the Coastal Marine Area.
"Our valuable enterprises, access to key markets and premium commodity prices must be protected from the risks of outdoor use of GMOs. Some of the world's most celebrated food regions, for example Tuscany, Provence, Bordeaux, are official GM-Free Zones. That's the club we want to be part of, and Northland and Auckland are well placed geographically to achieve this distinction."