Northland regional councillors have voted to reverse a decision not to include provisions to manage genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the council's proposed Regional Plan.
The latest turn of events in what has been a lengthy and contentious debate has seen Northland Regional Council (NRC) decide at its meeting yesterday to change its position on GMO provisions.
The move was welcomed by GMO opponents who attended the meeting, labelling it a "victory".
One of about 10 protesters, Nora Shayeb from the Northland Toxin Awareness Group, said there were "millions of reasons" to oppose the use of GMO.
She linked GMOs to the increased use of pesticides, which she described as harmful to the environment and humans.
"Most of our waterways are poisoned. Water is one of our most basic needs, but our water is making people sick," Shayeb said.
Another opponent, Social Credit party president Gloria Bruni, said New Zealand had "the outstanding opportunity to mark ourselves as uniquely sustainable".
"We'll compromise this if we introduce GMO into the region."
The debate was reignited after Life Sciences Network, Biotech NZ and Federated Farmers withdrew their support for NRC's no- provisions policy in the Environment Court.
Both the Far North and Whangārei district councils had appealed the decision NRC made in July last year.
In January the then newly-elected council decided to maintain its position but signalled it wouldn't actively defend its stance in court.
However, NRC strategic policy and planning manager Ben Lee said this wasn't feasible anymore as the court would most likely decide in favour of the appealing parties, the Far North and Whangārei district councils.
NRC is alone in the north with its current GMO policy. All other councils, including and Kaipara and Auckland councils, have GMO provisions in place.
Councillor Joce Yeoman spoke in favour of changing the council's position, saying previous decisions were based on political grounds and not "sound Resource Management Act decision-making" which should guide NRC.
Councillor Rick Stolwerk warned that should GMOs emerge that are safe to use, it would cost council $100,000 and another two years of debate to revise the Regional Plan again.
Reversing the GMO decision now will, on the other hand, save $60,000 to $80,000 in unbudgeted court and staff costs.
Stolwerk also believed the 83 submissions made to council – mostly in favour of provisions – didn't represent the position of Northlanders well enough.
Protester Hone Edwards, from the Maungarongo Marae Poroti, spoke up during the council debate, criticising the lack of consultation with tangata whenua, who couldn't "afford to back away from this issue".
NRC chairwoman Penny Smart warned Edwards several times that he had no speaking rights and she eventually expelled him from the debating chamber.
The council decided in favour of reversing their GMO position, with councillors Stolwerk and John Bain voting against the motion and councillor Martin Robinson withdrawing from voting due to a conflict of interest. Robinson was the spokesman for GE Free Northland.
Since the proposed Regional Plan has already been subject to public engagement, hearings and appeals, NRC can make changes without any further public consultation.