Wednesday, 02 May 2018 09:55

Feds caned by Environment Court

Written by  Peter Burke
Fed Farmers’ national president Katie Milne says her organisation does not believe local government should have a role in controlling GMOs. Fed Farmers’ national president Katie Milne says her organisation does not believe local government should have a role in controlling GMOs.

Federated Farmers faces the prospect of having to pay costs to the Northland Regional Council, the Whangarei District Council and Soil and Health after its failed attempt to re-litigate the issue of GE (genetic engineering).

Environment Court judge Laurie Newhook has slammed Federated Farmers for pursuing a case regarding limitation on use of GE in the region. 

In an unprecedented move, Newhook said in his summary that costs are ‘reserved,’ meaning that the other parties -- the Northland Regional Council, Whangarei District Council and Soil and Health -- could claim costs against Feds. Normally in such cases, costs are not awarded. This case looms as an exception.

In earlier litigation Feds had appealed a clause in the Northland Regional Council policy statement relating to them taking a “precautionary approach to GE”. The Feds lost its case and a subsequent appeal but then tried to re-litigate the issue when the Whangarei District Council appealed against the inclusion of the words “plants” in the plan.

Judge Newhook took exception to this saying in his judgement: “despite losing a jurisdictional argument in this court on its own appeal and losing its appeal to the High Court and its substantive appeal to the Court of Appeal and its substantive appeal to this court, Federated Farmers has endeavoured to run somewhat similar arguments on the papers before me in the current stage of the Whangarei District Council (WDC) appeal. These things collectively seem quite remarkable.” 

Essentially Feds, when it lost the Northland case, tried to re-litigate the arguments by joining an appeal by WDC for a minor wording change which the judge agreed to.

Judge Newhook describes the Feds submission in this latest case as “curious to say the least” and agrees with counsel for Soil and Health that the Federation’s submissions were “rather difficult to follow in logic”.

The judge went on to say that the Feds argument that GMOs should only be controlled by central government is wrong because under the Resource Management Act, regional councils have the power to control GMOs through their regional policy statements and plans. 

The decision by Judge Newhook to open up the issue of costs is almost unprecedented and suggests his frustration at the nature of their appeal.

It’s understood Feds has other appeals pending elsewhere.

'Taken aback' by ruling

Feds president Katie Milne says she’s taken aback by the fervour of the judge’s remarks and the issue of costs. She says the possible awarding of costs against a party in such an appeal is unusual.

“No one likes decisions that go against them, but we did have a lot of people who supported our stance,” she says.

Milne says Feds took the case believing it was wrong for local government to have a role in controlling the use of GMOs and that this should be left to central government. She believes local government doesn’t have the expertise to deal with the GMO issue.

She says the Federation is looking to keep the door open to new technologies that could help farmers and says she’d like to see a mature, unemotional conversation take place on such technologies.

The previous president, William Rolleston, championed the issue of GE and there was a perception that Feds was leading the charge in support of GE. 

When Northland Regional Council declared itself GMO-free, Feds went to law and challenged this.

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