Govt backing off GM food release? / Maori oppose end of GM ban (3/9/2003)

"It's clear there's going to be major political unrest about every application for release".

*Greens say Govt backing off GM food release
*Maori seek treaty hearing to oppose end of GM ban
Greens say Govt backing off GM food release
New Zealand Herald, 04.09.2003

The Green Party believes the Government may be backing off on releasing genetically modified organisms for food production after comments by Environment Minister Marian Hobbs in Parliament yesterday.

Asked if there were likely to be applications for release of GM crops or herds for human consumption, Ms Hobbs said: "Not for many years, and if such an application were made its first-time nature might well provoke a call-in response from the minister."

The moratorium on commercial release of GM organisms lifts on October 29 and the Environmental Risk Management Authority will consider and decide on applications.

But the minister has "call-in" powers that mean she can decide on particular applications, after a recommendation from Erma.

Ms Hobbs' comment provoked the Greens to ask Prime Minister Helen Clark whether it could be interpreted as a "Clayton's extension of the moratorium" - which she denied.

But Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said last night that she believed a worried Government was backing down on releasing food GM organisms or contaminating the food chain.

She said Ms Hobbs would use call-in for "politically inconvenient" applications. "It's clear there's going to be major political unrest about every application for release - whether conditional or not - and the Government's not going to succeed in passing this off as a technical and scientific decision by Erma."

Ms Hobbs told Parliament that "at no time" had she stated she would use call-in for politically sensitive decisions. A decision to use the power would be done on a case-by-case basis.

She described the moratorium as a "blunt approach" to GM and continuing it would deny New Zealand access to the technology's benefits.

Last night Ms Hobbs denied the Government was backing off the moratorium.

She believed the importance of the call-in power was its ability to add two specialists to Erma hearings.

"Sometimes if there's an application comes in that might be the first of a kind and of significance, namely directly into the food chain ... the minister might probably do a call-in."
Maori seek treaty hearing to oppose end of GM ban
New Zealand Herald, 04.09.2003

Maori are trying to block the lifting of the GM moratorium through the Waitangi Tribunal.

However, a lawyer involved in previous legal action over GM believes the move will fail.   "My view would be that it would be difficult in the extreme," said Wellington lawyer Jamie Ferguson.

"It would be nice to think the Government would pause if the tribunal made a recommendation that there had been inadequate consultation for Maori under the treaty, but it would appear the Government is very firm in the direction it is heading."

Maanu Paul, spokesman for Te Waka Kai Ora, a group of Maori organic growers, said an urgent hearing was being sought from the tribunal and he believed it would be this month.  "We can't rely on the Green Party, they're outvoted, and we can't rely on the political process - we have to do something ourselves."

The Gisborne orchardist said Te Waka Kai Ora had 600 members and two lawyers were working on seeking urgency for the claim.

Under the treaty, the Government had a duty to protect Maori, but the lifting of the moratorium on genetic modification, due on October 29, was a failure to carry out that duty.

"The impacts of GM affect everyone, we must all oppose the lifting of the moratorium at the hearing of this claim."

But Mr Ferguson, involved in an unsuccessful High Court challenge to AgResearch's GM experiments with human genes in cows in Hamilton, said a legal challenge to the legislation providing for an end to the moratorium would almost certainly fail.

The tribunal could only make recommendations, and while Maori could argue they had not been consulted adequately, the Government could argue it had consulted through the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification and changes to the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

Essentially the end of the moratorium, which Prime Minister Helen Clark has made clear will happen at the end of October, was a political decision.   "We are really in a default position, the moratorium automatically lapses on a specified date."

That meant there was no room to challenge on the grounds of ministerial judgment or sound decision-making, which might be possible with other controversial political decisions.

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