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GMOs, pests and participatory and representative democracy in decision-making about GM activities in New Zealand

Nicola Wheen and Heidi Baillie

Keywords: GM; GMOs; community; social; economic; Māori; cultural; participatory; representative; democracy; gene drives; pests; New Zealand

Pests, especially rats, stoats and possums, pose a significant threat to New Zealand's endemic biodiversity. Genetic modification (GM) offers a potential new means of controlling these pests. However, GM is a ‘hot’ environmental problem (it has complex and controversial social, cultural and economic dimensions) in this country. No genetically modified organisms (GMO) have been released into the New Zealand environment, other than in vaccines. GM developments and field tests have been approved under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, but the Authority is criticized as having a science bias, resulting in it over-emphasizing representative rather than participatory approaches to GM regulation. Consequentially, communities opposed to GM have turned to the Resource Management Act 1991's participatory planning scheme to block GMO releases using rules in local policies and plans. To ensure that these rules did not impede the release all GMOs in New Zealand, including GMOs in vaccines, Parliament moved to allow the Minister to veto local anti-GMO rules, except rules about GM crops. The extent to which this amendment results in a re-assertion of representative democracy over participatory democracy in GM regulation in New Zealand depends on how widely the courts interpret the Minister's new power.

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