Public consultation opens for regulation of inhibitors used in agriculture

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is calling for public feedback on options to change the way a category of compounds called inhibitors are managed.

Inhibitors are compounds that can be applied directly or indirectly to animals or a place to inhibit the production of greenhouse gases or reduce nutrient leaching in some way. Common types of application include as feed additives, coatings on fertilisers, or vaccines.

MPI’s director of food, skills and science, Fiona Duncan, says: Continue reading

EPA releases HSNO Enforcement Report 2018

The Environmental Protection Authority has released its HSNO Enforcement Report – the first since significant changes to the enforcement regime for hazardous substances came into effect in December 2017.

The report looks at the enforcement of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (the HSNO Act) for the 2017/18 financial year.

To compile the report, the EPA surveys all enforcement agencies listed in section 97 of the HSNO Act annually, to determine the levels of enforcement carried out in the previous year and planned for the coming year.

This is the first HSNO Enforcement Report to be completed following the transition of workplace controls for hazardous substances from the HSNO Act to the regulations of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), on 1 December 2017. The reform rewrote the law relating to safety in workplaces. It also gave the EPA new enforcement powers.

The full HSNO Enforcement Report 2018 can be found here.

Source:  Environmental Protection Authority 

EPA and its chief scientist come under the microscope at Question Time in Parliament

Public confidence in the Environmental Protection Authority and scepticism about science were among the issues examined during Question Time in Parliament on Thursday.

The work of the EPA’s chief scientist (who was not named) came into considerations, too.

National MP Scott Simpson seized on two statements in the EPA’s annual report –

* “We have our share of science deniers, who oppose fluoride, 1080, vaccinations, glyphosate, genetic modification, and much more”; and

* “Our Chief Scientist is prominent in emphasising the evidence, data, and science that underpins EPA decision making”.

Mr Simpson asked Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage if she agreed with those statements and – if so – why?

Ms Sage said yes, she did agree with the first statement by the chair of the Environmental Protection Authority board, Kerry Prendergast, when she indicated that New Zealand was not immune to scepticism about science.

She said she also agreed that the chief scientist for the EPA has a role in highlighting the science which informs the EPA’s decisions.

Mr Simpson then asked if the Minister had had discussions with the EPA chief executive specifically about the EPA chief scientist?

Ms Sage said she had advised the EPA chief executive that her office had received correspondence

“… expressing some concerns about media comments by the chief scientist. I was told that the matter was in hand. There was no substantive discussion.”

Mr Simpson also asked if the Minister had had discussions with the chief executive in terms of the scientific independence of the organisation and its role in how it expresses its view.

Ms Sage replied:

“It is important that the public has confidence in the EPA as an organisation which uses robust science in its decisions. It would not be appropriate for me, as Minister, to have any discussions with the chief executive about an employee of the authority. I did not do that.”

Mr Simpson then asked if Ms Sage agreed with the statement made last August by her former Green Party colleague, Steffan Browning, that the EPA are “incompetent chemical cowboys”.

Ms Sage didn’t directly answer. Rather, she said:

“The problem has been that the EPA was not resourced by the last Government to do all of the investigations that it needs to do.”

Mr Scott raised a point of order to say he was not sure the Minister had even attempted to address the question.

The Speaker, Trevor Mallard, disagreed.

Discussion paper aims to help judge if science is being properly used in shaping public policy

A discussion paper released today by Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, is intended to help the public and policy makers judge whether a piece of science is being appropriately interpreted or whether it is being misused or overstated.

Something may be presented as established science when it is not, or it may not suit advocates to accept the science as established when it is, Sir Peter says in a media release (here).

The discussion paper (here) gives examples of each of these and highlights the questions that should be asked when interpreting a scientific report. It also explains the scientific process and discusses how scientific conclusions can be established even when all the details may never be resolved or there is still debate over some specifics.

In his media release, Sir Peter says the way in which society obtains and understands scientific and technical knowledge is critical to a well-performing participatory democracy.

Many of the complex issues science now deals with have high values content – for example climate change and the use of genetic modification).

How science is presented and used therefore can have major impacts on decision-making.

Scientists and those who are active in science communication have crucial roles to play in allowing the public and the policy maker to better understand what they know, what they do not know, and what might be concluded from the evidence, but there are many challenges in the way that science is communicated and used.

Sir Peter says he is particularly concerned by the trend for the complex nature of science to be ignored or misunderstood in societal debates, leading to the argument that you can find a scientist to support any given position.

This, he says, totally misinterprets the way that scientific consensus is achieved and can engender serious mistrust in the scientific enterprise. Society will be better served when science is used appropriately.

The challenges of the 21st century will require society to have an understanding of the uses and limits of science and technology, Sir Peter says The discussion paper is intended as an early step in promoting that understanding.