Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be under the spotlight in Northland this week at an Environment Court mediation.

The Whangārei mediation is the next step in a strongly-polarised and long-running fight focused on Northland Regional Council (NRC) and updating of the Proposed Northland Regional Plan - that critically influences whether genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be used in the region.

An Environment Court Commissioner from Auckland will helm the mediation taking place at Forum North today. Representatives from both sides of the strongly polarised GMO inclusion debate will be present.

The mediation is part of Whangarei and Far North District Councils' joint appeal against NRC's controversial July 2019 decision to leave a precautionary approach against the use of GMOs in the region out of Proposed Northland Regional Plan updating.

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NRC will not be offering any evidence in mediation around this appeal. In a significant back down, NRC three weeks ago publicly announced it would no longer be defending the July 2019 council decision in upcoming court-ordered Environment Court mediation. The new October 2019-elected NRC council about-turn superseded the decision made just three months earlier by its October 2016-elected council predecessors.

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The NRC on January 29 said the new council - elected in October 2019 - would not be officially changing the previous council's position on management of GMOs in its Proposed Northland Regional Plan.

But it said the new council had confirmed it would now take a "back seat" and not take an active role – including offering any evidence – in upcoming Environment Court appeal proceedings on the GMO issue.

Environment Court mediation will focus on the district councils' NRC appeal plus the Proposed Northland Regional Plan and genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms.

Heavyweight proponents of continuing with a Proposed Northland Regional Plan that does not include a precautionary approach to the use of GMOs in the region are expected at the mediation. These include Wellington-based pro GE/GMO/agrichemical lobby group Life Science Network whose members include Federated Farmers of New Zealand.

There is a range of options that are possible after Monday, depending on the mediation outcome. A second day of mediation could be required at a later date, given that there are a large number of parties involved. Other options include parties involved instead proceeding directly to the more formal Environment Court hearing to be heard by an Environment Court judge.