26/11/2013

Precaution Vital to Prevent GE Contamination

 

The importance of protecting existing agricultural practices is at the heart of a groundbreaking case being heard in the Environment Court, involving the community of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) and the Crown Research Institute (CRI) Government Organisation Scion. GE Free NZ is one of the five 274 parties supporting the BOP Regional council wording.

The hearing is being held in Tauranga this week on the 28 -29th November, and follows a challenge to the BOP council's Proposed Regional Policy statement. NZ Crown Research Institute Scion is challenging the wording in the preamble to the policy statement (IR1B) on genetically engineered organisms [1].

“This case is of regional and national importance. It highlights the uncertainty over the safety of GE as argued by scientists from the two parties. It will examine whether communities have a voice in managing the risk of GMOs in their regions through local government regulation," said Claire Bleakley, President of GE Free NZ in food and environment.

The case will have expert witnesses presenting their evidence to the Environment Court over the two days. The hearing is taking place in the context of international scientific debate about the risks of GMOs.

Scientists in Europe have recently voiced concerns about the lack of scientific agreement on safety that is being wrongly claimed by GE proponents. [2] Hundreds of scientists in India have also called for the prime minister to follow the recommendations for a moratorium on GMOs made by the Technical Expert Committee appointed by the Supreme Court of India. [3]

In New Zealand support for a moratorium on GMO release has also come following the recently released report by the McGuiness Institute examining decades of research and regulation and finding major inadequacies that put Brand New Zealand at risk. [4]

"The precautionary GE wording in the proposed plan must be retained, and the existing valuable GE-Free forestry and food production in Bay of Plenty protected. Agricultural exports and livelihoods rely on GE-free production," said Claire Bleakley, president of GE-free NZ in food and environment.

“New Zealand still has not implemented at least twelve of the main precautionary protections around GE that were recommended by the Royal Commission, so it is important that communities protect themselves through their local government representatives."

There are a growing number of local councils who have placed a precautionary GE policy or wording in their plans, responding to the concerns of their community and business ratepayers. It appears that this approach to prevent harm has led the Minister for the Environment, Hon Amy Adams to suggest government will amend the RMA to remove any ability by councils to regulate GMOs in their region.[5]

One of the arguments being made by Scion is that there will be duplication of resources as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) considers the effects of GMOs. However, it was argued in the High Court recently that the EPA consideration of GMOs through the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act does not consider impacts of the GMO activity for individual communities but as a whole, and this more specific consideration is part of the RMA.

“We fully support the BOP RPS plan as it seeks to manage the scientific uncertainty of GE activities, so it can protect existing production systems in the Bay of Plenty region, through community consultation," said Claire Bleakley.

References:

[1] ENV-2012-AKL-146 NZ Forest Research Institute Limited (Scion) v Bay of Plenty Regional Council

BOP Regional Policy Statement

Section 1.7 Precautionary approach.

The ability to manage activities can be hindered by a lack of understanding about environmental processes and the effects of activities. Therefore, an approach, which is precautionary but responsive to increased knowledge, is required. It is expected that a precautionary approach would be applied to the management of natural and physical resources wherever there is uncertainty, including scientific, and a threat of serious or irreversible adverse effects on the resource and the built environment. It is important that any activity, which exhibits these constraints, is identified and managed appropriately. Although those intending to undertake activities seek certainty about what will be required of them, when there is little information as to the likely effects of those activities, public authorities are obliged to consider such activities on a case-by-case basis. Such consideration could be provided for in regional and district plans, through mechanisms such as zoning or rules enabling an assessment of effects through a resource consent process, or through other regulation such as bylaws. Any resource consent granted in such circumstances should be subject to whatever terms and conditions and/or reviews are considered necessary to avoid significant adverse effects on the environment and protect the health and safety of people and communities.

The existence of genetically modified organisms in the environment has generated community concern. Of particular concern is the placement and location of trial and containment facilities. The Bay of Plenty Regional Council promotes a precautionary approach to the release, control and use of genetically modified organisms within the region. The precautionary approach is a necessary response to unresolved issues relating to potential environmental risks, economic costs, and cultural and social effects. The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (“HSNO Act”) contains specific legislation for managing genetically modified organisms. The Environmental Protection Authority carries out these legislative functions. Where appropriate the Resource Management Act may complement and supplement the HSNO Act to regulate in this area.

[2] The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER). http://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2013/european-scientists-ask-for-gmo-research/

[3] 'Accept majority TEC final report”: More than 250 scientists write to PM http://indiagminfo.org/?p=649

[4] An Overview of Genetic Modification in New Zealand

http://mcguinnessinstitute.org/Site/Publications/Project_Reports.aspx

[5] Government Changes to the RMA

http://www.andersonlloyd.co.nz/government-changes-to-rma/

ENDS:

Claire Bleakley 06- 3089842 / 027 3486731

Jon Carapiet 0210507681



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