Northland Regional councillors David Sinclair, John Bain, Rick Stolwerk and chairman Bill Shepherd, who used his casting vote to break a 4-4 deadlock, have defended their decision to exclude GMO regulations in the proposed Northland regional plan, saying that it was their role to make decisions that were in the best interests of all 180,000-plus Northlanders, "and that is what we have done".
Detailed reasons for the decision can be seen in the report presented to the council on July 16 (www.nrc.govt.nz/media/14638/gmos-decision-option-2-no-new-provisions.pdf).
They argued that Northland was not exposed to risk, because GMO technologies were regulated under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, which was controlled by the Environmental Protection Authority, which in turn was backed by all of the resources of the Crown.
At some time in the future, they said, GMO technologies may be able to provide New Zealand with the tools to deal with some of the environmental challenges arising from biosecurity incursions such as kauri dieback, myrtle rust and fanworm, etc, pests like possums and stoats, and perhaps even help reduce greenhouse gas production in order to combat climate change.
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Assessing and managing any potential GMO-type tools was properly the role of the Crown, and would take far more resources than the regional council had at its disposal, while no organisms, GMO or otherwise, respected council or even national boundaries.
Treasury, they added, defined a capable regulator as "a regulator that has the people and systems necessary to operate an efficient and effective regulatory regime"; if the Northland Regional Council was to be a "capable regulator", it would have to put compliance, monitoring and enforcement staff resources in place.
Collecting consent user charges or bonds to cover the cost of compliance, management and enforcement could be years away, and even then, a significant percentage of the resources would have to come from an increase in rates.
"We are totally opposed to transferring responsibility for the compliance, monitoring and enforcement of GMOs from the Crown to the ratepayers of Northland," the councillors said.
"Increasingly, voices from the scientific and political communities are saying that the time is right for New Zealand to have a serious debate about the use of GMOs, particularly given the new technologies available. These responsible voices include Sir Peter Gluckman, former government science adviser, and the co-leader of the Green Party, James Shaw.
"Some submitters have criticised the performance of government agencies. If this is indeed an issue, then we should collectively be applying pressure to central government to ensure that its own agencies perform. We are confident that the process followed by the council in reaching our decision will stand up to legal scrutiny. At all times we have focused on whether or not regulating GMOs in the proposed regional plan at this time is in the best interests of all our 180,000 residents, and in our view it is not."