Previously known as Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics PSRGNZ - Charitable Trust
As required under the new 2005 Charities Act, PSGR has reregistered as a charitable trust.

10 February 2015

Mayors, Councillors and CEOs of all Regional, District and City Councils in New Zealand,

cc Local and Community Boards, and CEOs and Board Members of all District Health Boards

 

Submission to Councils Future Community and Regional Plans

The Trustees of PSGR thank Council for their response to previous correspondence. 

We ask that you accept and consider the following as a submission, with feedback, when establishing your planning and budgeting documents and in so doing support a sustainable future for your district and a healthy community, and in doing this draw support from members of District Health Boards and Community and Local Boards.

Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility is a Charitable Trust established to provide independent scientific assessment and advice on matters relating to genetic engineering and other scientific and medical matters. 

We accept many Councils have already taken steps to meet public demand in matters of genetically engineered organisms released into the environment and thank them for doing so.  While other Councils leave such concerns to central government, it is important to consider the impacts at local levels extending beyond the timeframes and jurisdiction of central government authorities like the Environmental Protection Authority.

 

In meeting their duty of care, the work undertaken by the Northland and Auckland Councils forming the Inter-Council Working Party (ICWP)[1] provides experience and guidance for all New Zealand Councils.  The ICWP sought legal advice and Council members have placed or are in the process of placing precautionary statements in their Plans to protect their communities and regions.

The ICWP work has highlighted the shortcomings in the HSNO Act including a lack of strict liability to moderate commercial risk taking and no mandatory requirement for the EPA to take a precautionary approach to experiments and release outdoors of transgenic organisms.  We note that legal representatives of companies submitting against council controls in regional plans claim the opposite is the case, but they provide no reference to show any requirement for the EPA to take a precautionary approach.

The ICWP commissioned an independent poll which showed how necessary was Council input.[2]  In December 2013 community opinion was confirmed when a national poll by Colmar Brunton, undertaken for Pure Hawke’s Bay, showed 79% of New Zealanders support Councils being able to use the RMA to protect farmers, exporters and their residents from the long-term unmanaged and known and unknown risks of genetically engineered organisms.  Risks include exposure to increasingly more toxic chemicals.[3] 

Reports from qualified bodies on transgenic organisms include New Zealand’s own McGuiness Institute, a privately funded, non-partisan think tank working for a sustainable future, contributing strategic foresight through evidence-based research and policy analysis.[4]  Ten years after the New Zealand moratorium on genetic engineering ended a McGuiness Institute study suggests it is time for it to be reinstated and time for a strategy to benefit the economy as a producer of food free of transgenic DNA for the world market.  The Institute found that despite huge investment in experiments on transgenic plants and trees, there has been little benefit and significant economic risk incurred.  Protecting the value of New Zealand’s status as a producer of safe, high quality food, is of national strategic importance.  The benefits are equally relevant for regional economic development and public health.

When the Bay of Plenty Regional Council placed a precautionary statement on genetic engineering in their long-term plans, an appeal lodged by Scion (NZ Forest Research Institute) went to the Environment Court.  The Court decision released on 18 December 2013[5] allowed the BOP RC to retain reference to transgenic organisms in its Regional Policy Statement.  The Court’s decision sets a precedent.  It clearly indicates that the Resource Management Act can be used to manage such activities in the Bay of Plenty region and it will also assist any future case in front of the Environment Court on this emerging issue.  Communities and industries in the Bay can now work towards the inclusion of stricter rules in their District and City Plans to protect and keep their ‘GE-free’ environment status and marketing advantage.  The Regional Policy Statement includes a policy directive to apply a Precautionary Approach to activities that have scientific uncertainty and where there is a serious risk of irreversible adverse effects.  This can apply to the use of transgenic organisms in the BOP environment.

The Environment Court recognised the community concerns regarding the outdoor use of transgenic organisms.  It also indicated in its decision that the Council may propose more directive regulation in the future, including policies, objectives, and methods.  These regulations would come as a result of further investigation, via a Section 32 report, showing that transgenic organisms are elevated to a matter of regional significance.  The Court decision will also encourage New Zealand Councils to take steps to protect their communities in a similar manner.

Local government’s role is to work in service to the public interest of present and future generations.  Local government responsibility encompasses the environmental and social spheres in their regions.  The precautionary approach as discussed here speaks to this responsibility in regards to new technologies such as any proposal to release transgenic organisms. 

Read the legal opinion by Dr Roydon Somerville QC on ‘Managing Risks Associated with Outdoor Use of Genetically Modified Organisms’ (January 2013) on http://www.wdc.govt.nz/PlansPoliciesandBylaws/Plans/Genetic-Engineering/Documents/Proposed-Plan-Change/Legal-Opinions-combined.pdf and a statement from Dr Kerry Grundy, ICWP  Convener  on www.rmla.org.nz/upload/files/obiter/jurisdiction_of_councils_to_regulate_gmos_under_the_rma_-_dr_k_grundy.pdf.   

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.4

With the protection of a precautionary statement, Council can oversee and control for any transgenic content in feed coming into their region and in foods sold in eating establishments.  Those involved could be asked to supply test results that prove that their product does not compromise food and environmental safety before their product is allowed to be imported into regions under Council’s jurisdiction.  For example, with strict control of food safety of restaurants, etc., Council can use testing to show that feeding glyphosate-contaminated feed has or has not contaminated food supplies such as dairy and meat products with glyphosate or with fragments of transgenic DNA.  Establishing or negating risk, Council can ban any product that creates any unacceptable risk to food and environmental safety.  A regional strength would be being able to advertise a guarantee of products free of genetically engineered organisms in your jurisdiction.  (See page 9 of attached document on feed imports.)

PSGR advises against the release of transgenic organisms.  Should any approvals be made against this advice by New Zealand‘s EPA leading to the release of transgenic organisms, PSGR supports the following additional protocols:

·        Making any outdoor experiments or field trials approved by the EPA a discretionary activity subject to stringent local additional conditions, particularly those not required under the Hazard Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act;

·        Applicants paying a substantial bond and being held fully accountable for any necessary remediation and other costs;

·        Establishing stringent on-going monitoring of releases by independent scientists.  Under the HSNO Act, the EPA ceases to have responsibility or jurisdiction over an approved release of a transgenic organism once that new organism ceases to be considered as such.  Little or no further attention or testing by an independent body applies. 

Such requirements are needed to protect New Zealand’s:

·        Biosecurity;

·        Unique biodiversity;

·        Producers and exporters of primary products from agriculture, horticulture, beekeeping, viticulture, silviculture and forestry, and its gardeners;

·        Food sovereignty;

·        Heritage seeds;

·        Growing domestic and export organic industry;

·        Environment and economy as a whole;

·        Public health from the proven and potential risks posed by releasing genetically engineered organisms into the environment.

It is important to realise that irrespective of planned changes to the RMA announced by government and seeking to prevent council oversight of genetically engineered organisms, other policy and legislative action is required.

A further concern is that if the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) includes allowing biotechnology companies such as Monsanto to sell their transgenic seeds in New Zealand with, as suggested, penalties for refusing to do so, this country would lose its GE free status.  This is in opposition to the wishes of the majority of the public, and would damage exports, tourism and our 100% Pure New Zealand reputation.

Transgenic applications in agriculture have made the problems of industrial monoculture cropping worse and do not support a sustainable agriculture and food system with broad societal benefits.  The technologies have been employed in ways that reinforce problematic industrial approaches to agriculture. 

Policy decisions about the use of genetic engineering technologies are too often driven by public relations campaigns run by the biotechnology industry, rather than by what science tells us about the most cost-effective ways to produce abundant food and preserve the health of farmland.

PSGR acknowledges there may be potential benefits from genetic engineering technology and supports continued advances in molecular biology, which is the underlying science, when fully contained, supervised use of genetically engineered technology is for the furtherance of ethical science.  We are critical of the business models and regulatory systems that have characterized early applications of the various transgenic technologies involved. 

PSGR does not gain an advantage in trade competition.

PSGR urges all Councils to apply strong precautionary policies on genetically engineered organisms for Unitary, Local and Regional plans to meet your duty of care to your community and to protect district environments.  We also call on Councils and District Health Boards to be cognisant of the risks of genetically engineered organisms in terms of human health.  We ask that the information here and attached be taken into account for current and future considerations to manage any potential release of genetically engineered organisms in the environment in your region.

Please consider this correspondence as a formal submission to your plans.  We wish to be kept informed of the process of submissions and outcomes.  In general we do not wish to appear to speak to the submission at hearings, although we are open to invitation by Councils and District Health Boards to address representatives on genetic engineering when required and feasible.

We suggest your Council appoint a contact representative with whom we can work more closely, and to whom we can supply further information and/or answer questions from Council. 

We look forward to your response.

 

The Trustees  of Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility New Zealand Charitable Trust

 


[4] http://mcguinnessinstitute.org/Site/Publications/Project_Reports.aspx. ‘An Overview of Genetic Modification in New Zealand 1973-2013:  The first forty years’ published in August 2013.  

[5] http://www.boprc.govt.nz/media/321876/environment-court-decision-18-dec-2013-env-2012-339-000041-part-one-section-17.pdf