Resource Management Act: RMA Link: Topics: Details

The RMAlink project aims to make community participation in all Resource Management Act processes more straightforward and less time-consuming. More effective participation from those with a concern for the environment will contribute towards improving environmental outcomes nationwide.

Topics: Details

Hosted by:

Wellington Community Network
Subject Plant & Animal Pests

Text GMOs

The importation, development, trial and release of genetically modified organisms is regulated under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 by the Environmental Risk Management Authority. Any person or company wishing to introduce, develop or grow a GMO must apply to ERMA for permission. ERMA processes applications according to the requirements of the HSNO Act, which involves a risk assessment procedure and public notification. The application will be approved if benefits are considered to outweigh the risks and costs, or if risks are not considered to be significant.

All approvals are made subject to conditions that require containment of the organism. Controls on containment may relate to:

  • Treatment of water, waste or air that leaves the site
  • Restrictions on personnel access
  • Building design, fence design, security arrangements
  • Removal of material, and decontamination at conclusion of trial
  • Procedures to prevent release/dispersal of pollen or seed
Containment requirements are enforced by MAF under the Biosecurity Act 1993.

Genetically Modified Organisms and the RMA
Local government has no statutory role in the approval or management of GMOs. However, there is a degree of risk to property, human health and the environment from GMO use. There is a real possibility of economic loss to organic growers if their propertys organic certification is suspended as a result of cross-boundary contamination.

A GMO could be accidentally released into the environment, and became established as a pest, or an unwanted contaminant in the food chain. Such a release may be irreversible, effects may take a long time to appear, and it may not be possible for affected communities to prove liability, or claim compensation from those responsible.

Remediation may then become a local or regional government responsibility, in the same way that pest plants and animals released decades ago are now a biosecurity issue with huge financial implications. These liability issues were assessed in a 2002 Law Commission report (See Reference list below.)

The possibility of making rules under the RMA to control GMOs is explored in a recent Environment Bay of Plenty report, entitled Genetically Modified Organisms; Exploration of Issues and Policy Options. The report highlights a number of unresolved questions, including;

  • Can a regional council make a rule requiring resource consents for discharge of GM contaminants to air / land / water?
  • Could a GMO, or heritable material from a GMO, be considered a hazardous substance under the RMA, and therefore be regulated under Section 30?
  • Could a GMO, or its seed or pollen, meet the definition of a contaminant under the RMA? If so, could a regional council regulate its discharge under Section 15?
  • Would a site that has been used for growing GM crops, and which retains heritable material, be considered contaminated? If so, who is liable to remediate it? Should the regional council take regulatory action, and/or record it on a database?
  • Can a district council include methods in its plan (e.g. GE free zones, buffer zones) or write rules regarding the growing or raising of GMOs?
  • Does the general duty in Section 17 to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effect on the environment, apply in the case of GMOs?
Nelson, Waitakere and Napier have declared themselves as GE-Free cities. This is a symbolic gesture, but has no legal status, and so is not enforceable.

Currently there is still a good deal of uncertainty over the role of local and regional government in managing the risks and potential effects of genetically modified organisms. A significant policy and information gap exists concerning the role of the RMA. The Ministry for the Environment has not addressed this gap, and so the situation regarding liabilities and responsibilities remains unclear.

To find out if any applications to grow or raise GMOs in your area are currently being considered by ERMA, search the Register of Applications on their website



New Zealand Law Commission (2002) Liability for Loss Resulting from the Development, Supply or Use of Genetically Modified Organisms. NZLC Study Paper 14.
New Zealand Law Commission, Wellington.
Available from NZLC, $10.00, or see

Hunt, Amanda (2003) Genetically Modified Organisms: Exploration of Issues and Policy Options. Environment Bay of Plenty Resource Policy Publication 2003/1 66p.
Environment Bay of Plenty. ISSN 1175 8546
This report explores the uses and potential risks of GMOs, the regulatory framework for their management (including the RMA), and the roles of local and regional government. It looks at ethical, cultural and liability issues, and discusses unresolved questions and policy options for Environment Bay of Plenty. The information in the report is generally relevant to local and regional authorities throughout New Zealand. Useful list of references.
Available free on request from EBOP.

Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (2001) Report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification.
Available from MFE, PO Box 10362, Wellington, or online at

Journal Articles

Grundy, K. (2006) Regulating GMO Land Uses under the RMA
Planning Quarterly, March 2006, p32-36
Progress report on initiatives in Northland where, in response to community concerns, local authorities are working on a combined approach to use the RMA and Local Government Acts to introduce land use controls on GMO's. This will set an important precedent, and is of interest to communities and local authorities nationwide.

Fuiava, P. F. (2004) Can Local Government Control Land Use Involving Genetically Modified Organisms?
NZ Journal of Environmental Law Vol 8, p295 - 326
Discussion of whether councils can regulate land use to control use of GMOs.

Arthur, B. (2004) On Genetically Modified Organisms: A Legislative Interface.
Resource Management Bulletin, Feb. 2004 p112-115.
Legal opinion of Crown Counsel (as requested by MFE) on interface between HSNO Act 1996, Local Government Act 2002, and the RMA as they relate to GMO's and issues outlined above.