Whangārei council to appeal Northland Regional Council GMO policy

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In a unanimous decision the Whangarei District Council has agreed to appeal the Northland Regional Council’s controversial canning its stance on genetically modified organisms.

People in the public gallery cheered at the result in the Planning and Development Committee yesterday, where all council members voted.

The Whangārei council (WDC) was one of 82 submitters calling for the regional council to stick to the proposed Regional Plan’s precautionary measures against letting GMO material into Northland’s great outdoors.

Instead, NRC chairman Bill Shepherd, going against the usual protocol of supporting the status quo, used his right of a casting vote to tip a tied result, and the proposed GMO measure was gone.

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Yesterday, the Whangārei council members considered two options – to appeal or not to appeal in the Environment Court. Mayor Sheryl Mai put forward the motion for option 1, to challenge the NRC’s decision. The motion was seconded by Anna Murphy.

Council member and farmer Phil Halse gave a strong address supporting the need for a strong precautionary policy in the Northland Regional Plan.

”We don’t want people coming into our [region] to experiment with GE/GMOs, buggering off when there are unintended or unforeseen adverse impacts [and] contamination, and leave us to clear up the mess,” Halse said.

The NRC bloc who voted against the precautions, Shepherd, John Bain, David Sinclair and Rick Stolwerk, argued that such a scenario would not occur because central government agencies already had policies that would prevent it happening, or, if it did happen, would take care of liability issues.

That point of view has been widely refuted by opponents of genetic engineering (GE) and GMO use. While the Whangārei council is quick off the blocks to declare its day in court, several other councils, public organisations and conservation groups are expected to also appeal.

The issue of GMO precautions being included in public policy has been on the agenda since 2003, when all Northland councils and the unitary Auckland Council formed the Inter-Council Working Party on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options.

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