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Leading chefs, hospitality operators and premium food and
wine producers believe New Zealand is in danger of killing the
goose that lays the golden egg. A current Government proposal
to make GM forestry (that’s trees that have been altered at the
gene level), exempt from regional or district plans, could end
the right of councils to ban genetically modified trees from
their area and could threaten the country’s ability to promote
itself as a GM-free nation; a nation that offers a unique cuisine
and natural environment second to none. Jes Magill talks with
several operators concerned about the vulnerability of Brand
New Zealand if this were to happen.
It’s often claimed that New Zealand’s environment is its
competitive advantage, its point of difference on the global
stage. But there’s concern that an anti-environment policy,
the proposed National Environmental Standard for Plantation
Forestry drafted by the Ministry of Primary Industries, could
harm this status, and as a result negatively impact the
hospitality and tourism industries, which together form New
Zealand’s largest employer.
The Government-owned research institute, Scion, is working on
genetically-engineered sterile plantation trees that would prevent
the spread of so-called wilding trees.
Projects director with the Sustainability Council, Stephanie
Howard, says the Government lacked Parliamentary support to
remove the regions power to protect their GM free status, and is
attempting to achieve that through regulation instead, bypassing
Hawke’s Bay-born owner and chef at Pipi Café in Havelock
North, Alexandra Tylee says Hawke’s Bay is isolated, “It’s not
really on the main road to anywhere except itself, so we’re in a
great position to create a little piece of paradise, one which is
completely GMO free, and where possible organic. It’s these little
pockets of paradise travellers seek out and which will lead the
world to a positive future too.”
Chef and food writer Lauraine Jacobs says, “It’s very worrying
that industries like forestry, which isn’t involved in production
and growing of edible products, can dictate and threaten the very
fabric of our nation. Our economy is heavily dependent on the
international export of these edible products and anything like
GMO planting that even vaguely threatens the perception of New
Zealand as clean and very green should be carefully re-thought.
“Our Government has a history of seeing tourism as offering
adventures for thrill seeking, and more recently, those bloody
hobbits. Apparently around 20 busloads of tourists a day leave
Matamata to visit Hobbiton – imagine if we had 20 busloads of
tourists seeking the best wine and cuisine in our regions. We’re
ideally primed for food tourism and our challenge is to get the
world to recognise this.”
Scott Lawson, an organic food producer and member of Pure
Hawke’s Bay, a lobby group of premium produce, wine and food
producers that wants Hawke’s Bay’s GM Free status protected in
law – says the proposal to prevent the regions from protecting
their land from GM forestry is highly controversial and a big risk
for premium food exporters, “The Government must not favour
GM forestry developers at the expense of food producers and
exporters,” says Lawson.
Despite the Government’s stated intentions, Hastings District
Council has just adopted rules that make Hastings the first official
GM Free food producing district in New Zealand while Auckland,
Whangarei and Far North councils are now consulting with their
communities on similar policies.
It’s expected the decision on whether the proposal to make
GM forestry exempt from regional or district plans will be made
public by the end of the year.
Brand New Zealand under threat?
BY JES MAGILL
Pipi Café chef/owner Alexandra Tylee with family
and friends near the Tuki Tuki Valley, Havelock North.
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