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.

1 June 2011

Chairman Craig Brown, all councillors and CEO

Northland Regional Council

Private Bag 9021

Whangarei Mail Centre

WHANGAREI 0148

 

Dear Sirs and Mesdames

We write to congratulate you on your recent proposal to put in place a precautionary provision covering genetically engineered organisms in the Northland Regional Policy Statement (as contained in the NRC ‘New RPS Discussion Document 2010’).  We are advised you had the largest number of submissions on any issue raised in the RPS Discussion Document from Northland ratepayers whole-heartedly endorsing this approach and suggesting in addition some type of prohibiting language regarding transgenic organisms.

Local action is vital given the failure of central government, despite being lobbied by local authorities, Local Government NZ, Rural Women NZ, independent scientists and community groups since 1998.  Central government should amend the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) to provide truly strict liability on transgenes and a requirement for the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) or an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take a precautionary approach.  This is not happening.  Flaws in the HSNO Act have not been rectified before or since the 2003 New Organisms and Other Matters (NOOM) Bill.  There is a lack of strict liability which places councils and their communities at financial risk if unforeseen adverse effects occur.

 

To date, those who release genetically engineered organisms into the environment have not been held liable for damage resulting from an activity carried out in accordance with an ERMA approval under the HSNO Act.  There is no requirement for applicants to prove financial fitness in case of damage and no requirement to post bonds to cover costs should damage occur.  Costs from unexpected events or ineffective national regulation will therefore lie with affected parties, i.e. neighbouring land users and local authorities.

Under the HSNO Act, ERMA is not required to take a precautionary approach to genetically engineered organisms and ERMA has wide discretion within which it has consistently chosen not to exercise the precautionary approach.  The precautionary approach is built into the RMA and should be mandatory in the HSNO Act.

It is heartening to see Northland Councils taking a firm stand and we note that both the Auckland Regional Council, now absorbed into Auckland Council, and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council have precautionary genetic engineering provisions in their draft RPSs.

We congratulate Whangarei District Council’s recent unanimous vote (l3 April 2011) to put in place a District Plan change to ban land use in their district for genetically engineered organisms (GEO), and the further commitment to approach all councils in the Auckland-Far North region to undertake a plan change to regulate or prevent the use of transgenic organisms in the environment in their districts.

We applaud council acting on its duty of care to its constituents and its obligation to manage natural and physical resources in a sustainable manner.  It is all the more important in view of the Canadian study recently published which has revealed the presence of circulating pesticides associated with genetically engineered foods in the blood stream of women, including pregnant women and their unborn children.

Many scientists, doctors and members of the public have warned regulatory agencies that the inherent risks of genetic engineering mean that its products should be limited to laboratory containment and not released into the open environment and especially kept out of the food supply.  This study supports the wisdom of this caution and demonstrates the flaw of the central claim of the genetic engineering industry that genetically engineered foods are ‘substantially equivalent’ to normal foods.  The public have a right to ask why regulatory agencies have accepted such an unlikely and apparently self-serving claim, and why they have failed to demand appropriate scientific proof that GE (or GM, genetically modified) foods are in reality ‘substantially equivalent’ in every significant way, including safety. 

Those with challenged immune systems, the elderly and the young are particularly vulnerable to exposure to toxins.  The unborn are the most vulnerable and the public places its trust in the regulatory authorities whose duty it is to protect the vulnerable.  This study exposes how regulatory agencies, health authorities and governments have failed to respect this trust by allowing these novel products into the public food supply without requiring the proof of safety that any reasonable member of the public would expect. 

We note that a precedent has been set by Auckland City Council.  It has included prohibitive rules in their District Plan (Hauraki Gulf and Islands) since l996.  The rules prohibit the use of any genetically engineered organism and the rules remain.  They were put in place at low cost and we understand were not subject to legal challenge.

Thank you for your participation in the work of the Inter Council Working Party on Risk Evaluation and Management Options

The recent Colmar Brunton poll (Auckland-Cape Reinga) on genetic engineering found a large proportion of people, including those in the Kaipara District, strongly favour making users of genetically engineered organisms legally responsible for any resulting economic or environmental harm.  Approximately two-thirds of respondents want regulation to make transgene users strictly liable for any harm caused, with support ranging from 63% to 72% for individual council districts.  (Northland statistics were 72% Northlanders [85% Maori] opposed to GEO land use, with support for some type of local regulation.)

Genetically engineered organisms should continue to be kept under the strict controls of laboratory confinement, where they can be used for research and medical purposes.  They should not be released into the environment or the food chain.

We attach the Canadian study and our 25 May 2011 Press Release.  You have been emailed our 23 May 2011 Open Letter to Government which complements our submission to your Long Term Plans.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of any assistance.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Signed on behalf of the Trustees and Members of Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics by Jean Anderson

Enc.

Reprod Toxicol. 2011 Feb 18 [Epub ahead of print] ‘Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada’, Aris A, Leblanc S.

Press Release 25 May 2011, ‘Doctors and Scientists call for a rethink of regulation on Genetically Engineered Food’. www.psgr.org.nz/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=1&Itemid=42

Ends