Australasia's home for timber news and information

Forest Owners and Fed Farmers oppose GE rules


The Forest Owners Association has joined forces with Federated Farmers in opposing councils which want to declare themselves genetically modified free. It has said the councils’ moves would be “unworkable”. Source: Stuff co nz

At present Federated Farmers is appealing against a decision by the Northland Regional Council to set up a GEfree zone.

It is also challenging a similar Hastings District Council decision in the Environment Court.

A group of growers and farmers, campaigning under the Pure Hawke’s Bay banner, has persuaded the Hastings District Council to ban GM crops and animals under its district plan for 10 years.

Forest Owners Association technical manager Glen Mackie said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), not councils, should make such decisions.

“Clearly, the EPA is best equipped to do this. That’s what it’s set up to do. But the Environment Court has recently decided that regional councillors should also be given the power to regulate GMOs in their regions.

“This means, if a superior forest tree, a disease resistant tamarillo, a psyllid resistant potato or drought tolerant ryegrass was developed using GM technology, it would need the approval of the EPA as well as each of the councils where the cultivar might be planted,” Mr Mackie said.

Green MP Steffan Browning disagreed, saying there was a threat to New Zealand’s brand and its environment from GE.

He agreed that the EPA should make decisions, but only if it was sufficiently well resourced, which at present it was not.

He also criticised the role of the EPA, saying its mandate had been changed under National so that now it had to “give effect to government policy”.

Mr Browning said he was concerned about unexpected outcomes through “fiddling” with genomes.

GE advocates touted the benefits of selecting for a particular trait, such as disease resistance, but that did not justify unexpected consequences.

At present plant research company Scion based in Rotorua carries out GE trials, but the plants are destroyed afterwards.

Mr Mackie said GE orchard trees, including virus resistant papaya, were widely grown in the United States and elsewhere. But with the exception of insect resistant poplar trees in China, and eucalypts from Brazil, no GE forest trees had been released internationally for commercial use.

“This will change. Sooner or later someone will come up with a straighter, stronger, faster growing pine tree – one that is sterile and doesn’t produce pollen. When that happens, the decision whether or not to release it needs to be made by people who can analyse complex scientific data,” Mr Mackie said.

He said foresters also supported a change to the GMO regulations to clarify the definition of a GMO.

This follows a 2014 High Court decision which changed the commonly accepted definition, making many crops and animals bred in New Zealand technically GMOs and therefore illegal.