Genetic Engineering Review

The Inter-Council working party on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Risk Evaluation and Management Options was established to respond to community concerns in the Northland region about GMOs. 

The Far North, Whangārei, and Kaipara District Councils, Auckland Council and Northland Regional Council are represented on the working party.

Three major reports commissioned by the working party have identified a range of risks involved with the trialling and release of GMOs. They also include approaches to managing those risks. 

GMO Reports [link to documents]

Environmental risks

  • GMOs becoming invasive and affecting other species including native flora and fauna
  • the development of herbicide or pesticide resistance creating 'super-weeds' or 'super-pests'
  • long term effects on ecosystem functioning.

Socio-cultural risks

  • effects on Maori cultural beliefs of whakapapa, mauri, tikanga
  • ethical concerns about mixing genes from different species including human genes
  • concerns about the long term safety of genetically engineered food. 

Economic risks

  • loss of income through contamination (or perceived contamination) of non-GMO food products
  • negative effects on marketing and branding opportunities such as 'clean and green' or 'naturally Northland'
  • costs associated with environmental damage such as clean-up costs for invasive weeds or pests.

Associated with these risks are limited liability provisions under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996. 

In 2009, Colmar Brunton was commissioned by the Working Party to conduct a survey. Its purpose was to gauge the degree to which communities are willing to accept risks associated with the outdoor use of GMOs, and to test options for responding to these risks. 

There is currently no outdoor use of GM plants or animals in Auckland and Northland. 

  • Two thirds or more of the residents polled want local or regional councils to have a role in regulating GMOs in their areas, either by setting local rules or by a change of legislation at the national level. Support in the Auckland region averaged 68% and 74% in Northland.
  • Around two thirds of the respondents also favoured regulation of at least a strength that would make users of these GMOs legally responsible for any environmental or economic harm - either through local regulation or by way of changes to national legislation. (Auckland 64%, Northland 67%).
  • Around half the residents (Auckland 44% and Northland 53%) want councils to have the right to prohibit GM plants and animals, either by setting local rules or allowing communities, through their councils, the right to reject use of a particular GMO in its area when the national regulator, ERMA, is processing applications.
  • When questioned whether councils should set rules in addition to those set by ERMA, 40% of Auckland respondents supported this mechanism and 46% of Northland respondents were in support (49% in Whangārei ). Among those respondents who support their council setting rules, total prohibition is the most favoured level of regulation, with strict liability provisions the next most favoured, and prohibiting only GMOs for food production the third favoured.
  • All communities strongly favour making users of GMOs legally responsible for any economic or environmental harm that may result. Support for regulation to make users of GMOs strictly liable for any harm caused ranged from 63% to 72% for individual councils.
  • Support for local regulation is strongest among Maori, particularly in the Northland region. It is also strongest amongst semi-rural and rural residents while urban views vary by region. Rural residents are more likely to favour prohibiting GMOs in both Northland and Auckland than are semi-rural or urban residents. Females are more likely to support local regulation than are males, and support is greatest among 18-39 year olds.

View GMO Poll [link to document]

A working party produced a draft Proposed Plan Change to the District/Unity Plan and a Section 32 Evaluation and Report to manage the risks associated with the outdoor use of GMOs. A legal opinion from Dr Royden Somerville QC was also obtained. 

The documents outline planning provisions that would be inserted into existing district plans in Northland and in Auckland Council’s new Unitary Plan. 

The provisions would prohibit the release of GMOs to the environment and make field trialling of GMOs a discretionary activity, subject to strict liability conditions for any environmental or economic harm that may eventuate. 

After consideration of the documents by member councils on the working party, a proposed Plan Change 131 Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) was developed. 

The Plan Change became operative in the District Plan on 12 July 2018 (under the Part E District Wide chapter).

District Plan

Proposed Plan Change Reports [link to reports]