An Environment Court decision on genetically modified products in the Bay of Plenty will have positive consequences for Wairararapa, said a local GE-free advocate.
In December 2013, the Environment Court in Tauranga awarded councils the right to enact policies and rules around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in land-based activities, if their communities have significant objection.
The ruling arose after a research company sought to remove references to GMOs as an emerging issue in Bay of Plenty Regional Council's (BOPRC) regional policy statement.
Featherston woman and GE Free New Zealand president Claire Bleakley said the court's decision was a positive move for Wairarapa, as locals can raise concerns regarding GMOs with their local authorities.
"For our own region, it's an exciting decision," said Mrs Bleakley, also a member of GE Wairarapa, which has a membership of around 200.
"Communities can now ask their councils to put rules in place. In the past, our members made submissions to our councils against GMO use, but the councils said they couldn't do much, as it was a grey area. Now, they can make submissions knowing their voices have the right to be heard."
Mrs Bleakley said the court ruling is particularly helpful for Wairarapa farmers opposed to the use of GMOs in agriculture.
While New Zealand's agricultural environment is currently GE free, the state-owned company AgResearch plans to introduce genetically modified ryegrass to New Zealand as a staple feed for livestock.
Even farmers who elect not to use GM ryegrass could still be affected, said Mrs Bleakley, as ryegrass flowers up to six times a year, spreading pollen to other farms.
She said studies show consumption of GM products can cause by livestock can cause liver and kidney problems, tumours, endocrine disruption and sterility.
"All these studies point to massive long-term health issues in animals," said Mrs Bleakley, a homeopath. "But there is no published research on the safety of genetically modified ryegrass."
She said GM products could be disastrous for Wairarapa farmers, as some of New Zealand's major trading partners are not accepting beef which has been fed GMOs.
"China, Japan and Europe don't want anything to do with it. GMOs will shut down the European markets for us. Our farmers in Wairarapa will be stuck with very high debts if their livestock are affected. This is why it's so important that farmers can ask their council to put down rules."
The Environment Court ruling first allowed BOPRC to take precautionary approach to GM crops in the Bay of Plenty, after the crown research institute Scion challenged its policy statement so it could grow GM pine trees.
This right to consider submissions on GMOs in land-based activities was extended to all New Zealand local authorities. "If communities think something is dangerous, they should have a say."