Two moths may be imported into New Zealand to combat invasive horehound

The Horehound Biocontrol Group, a collective of farmers whose crops are infested with horehound, have applied to the Environmental Protection Authority to introduce the horehound plume moth and horehound clearwing moth to attack the weed. Its application was supported by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Farming Fund.

The two moths attack horehound in different ways. The larvae of the plume moth feed on horehound leaves, while those of the clearwing moth feed on the roots.

The applicant group noted a recent survey estimating horehound costs to New Zealand dryland farmers at almost $7 million a year.

The weed is a serious threat to the viability of some farms, it is said, as it establishes strongly in hill and high-country, especially when the valuable crop, lucerne,  is dormant in the winter. One farmer noted that horehound quickly grows out of control, resulting in lucerne paddocks failing well before their expected 10-year life cycle.

“The EPA received 40 submissions on this application, 39 of which were in favour,” noted its General Manager of Hazardous Substances and New Organisms, Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter.

“The Department of Conservation and MPI both supported the application. MPI noted the negative impact of chemicals on the environment where spraying was used, as against the long-term benefits of bio-control.”

A firm that produces medicinal products using horehound weed told the authority harvesting the weed may become difficult if a biocontrol agent was released.  But the Decision-making Committee found that, in unmanaged environments, the moths would be the only means used to control horehound, so herbalists should be able to continue their harvesting, which is done by hand.

The committee further noted that farmers and herbalists could come to agreements regarding access to and management of horehound-infested areas to allow harvesting.

“The EPA decision-making committee heard evidence from farmers that lucerne is increasingly being used in the high country to mitigate the effects of drought. They explained that lucerne flourishes in dry conditions, and provides high-quality feed for longer periods than traditional pasture grasses. Farmers see it as an ally in their fight against climate change,” Dr Thomson-Carter said.

“The EPA accepted that there are no native species related to horehound that would be at risk if these two moths were introduced. Both were released in Australia 20 years ago, and there was no evidence of adverse effects on non-target species there.”

In coming to the decision to approve the application without controls, the authority noted that it did not identify any risks to native or taonga species, ecosystems or traditional Māori values, practices, health or well-being.

The Decision-making Committee also concluded that introducing the two moths would curb the vigour and abundance of horehound in New Zealand, thus reducing its progressive invasion of new habitats, and sustaining biodiversity.

The committee further noted the potential beneficial effect of reducing the use of herbicides that can kill native or other beneficial plants when used incorrectly, Dr Thomson-Carter said.

All documents relating to the application can be read HERE. 

Source. Environmental Protection Authority 


Second grounds for reassessment on methyl bromide declined

The Environmental Protection Authority has declined an application to determine whether there are grounds for a reassessment of methyl bromide’s flammable gas classification.

This latest decision does not invalidate the grounds for reassessment established earlier this year as a consequence of an application, made by the Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction Inc, based on the volume of methyl bromide being used and imported into New Zealand.

Although those grounds for reassessment have been established, the EPA says it has not yet received any application to reassess methyl bromide.

By October 2020 users of methyl bromide in New Zealand will still need to meet EPA requirements to use recapture technology and safely recover or dispose of the gas used in their fumigation activity.

The General Manager of EPA’s Hazardous Substances Group, Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, says a Decision-making Committee was appointed and decided that none of four possible factors required to approve the grounds for reassessment were present.  The application was declined.

“Grounds for reassessment need to be established before any reassessment application can be accepted under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act,” says Dr Thomson-Carter.

“In their application, Pest Management Association of New Zealand presented information that methyl bromide is “only flammable in extreme concentrations, extreme heat and a high voltage spark”, and as such should not be considered to be a flammable gas.

“We agree with the supporting information but does not consider that it meets the ‘significant new information’ factor for grounds to change the flammability classification of methyl bromide.”

Anyone can make an application for grounds.  Once grounds are approved, anyone can apply for the subsequent reassessment.

More information on reassessments is available on the EPA website.

Additional information

  • Methyl bromide was previously reassessed in 2010 following an application by the Chief Executive of the Environmental Risk Management Authority, the predecessor to the Environmental Protection Authority.
  • The key factors which need to be taken into account for grounds for reassessment to be found:
    • Significant new information relating to the effects of the substance becomes available.
    • A change in controls under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
    • Another substance with similar or improved beneficial effects and reduced adverse effects becomes available.
    • Information showing a significant change of use of the substance becomes available.
    • Information showing a significant change in the quantity of the substance manufactured or imported becomes available.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

EPA releases science behind hazardous substances

The Environmental Protection Authority has publicly released, for feedback, the approach used to assess hazardous substances which pose risks to people and New Zealand’s environment.

Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, General Manager of the EPA’s Hazardous Substances Group, says there’s always a lot of interest in the authority’s decisions on what hazardous substances we approve and why.

“The approach and the scientific models outlined in the guide help us decide how to manage risks, by either imposing controls on how the substance is used, like its maximum strength, who it is available to, and how it is labelled, or declining the application,” says Dr Thomson-Carter.

“These are important decisions and we’re encouraging interested parties to read our guide and give us feedback on how useful and user-friendly the material is.”

This is the first time the authority has released its decision-making approach, which assesses the evidence and data for hundreds of imported or manufactured hazardous substances in New Zealand.

New Zealanders come into contact with hazardous substance daily, including a range of substances from fly sprays through to weed killers, Dr Thomson-Carter said.

“We always look at the benefits and risks and costs, and consider the effects a substance poses to human health, the environment, and the economy,” she said.

“The EPA will only grant and approval for a hazardous substance to be imported or manufactured in New Zealand if it is considered that the risks can be adequately managed, and that the benefits outweigh any residual risk.”

As the authority continues to refocus on becoming a more proactive and transparent regulator, it wants to enable interested parties and the public to understand the science behind its decision-making, Dr Thomson-Carter said.

Read the risk assessment guide HERE.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

EPA is reviewing the use of neonicotinoids in the aftermath of EU ban to protect bees

The Environmental Protection Authority today is reviewing the use of pesticides containing chemicals thought to harm bees.

This follows the European Union voted on a near-total ban of neonicotinoids – a chemical found in most insecticides (HERE).

EPA hazardous substances spokesperson Fiona Thomson-Carter said the use of neonicotinoids in New Zealand was already regulated heavily.

But the EPA would look at the EU’s findings, she was reported by Radio New Zealand as saying (HERE).

“We’ll be reviewing the new information coming through from the EU to see whether there’s anything significant that would mean that we need to change our position and our practice in New Zealand.”

But Dr Thomson-Carter also said the way neonicotinoids were used in New Zealand was very different to in Europe and they were used on a much smaller scale.

There was no evidence that the way New Zealand used neonicotinoids was harmful to bees, she said.

“In 2017 most of the colony losses were due to events like extreme weather conditions or starvation or pests invading hives. At the moment in New Zealand the colony loss rate – less than 10 percent – is lower than that seen in Europe.

“There’s no evidence that the New Zealand bee population is being harmed by the use of neonicitinoids in usual agricultural and horticultural practise.”

Dr Thomson-Carter said if any changes were to be made, they would happen as soon as possible.

“We’ll be looking at the new information first thing on Monday, however if we’re going to make any changes to our practise that will take a few weeks or months to process through.”


EPA keeps an eye on the European Union’s expansion of its neonicotinoid pesticide ban

The European Union has expanded its ban of neonicotinoid pesticides, based on the threat they pose to pollinators.

Before the decision had been announced, New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority advised it was standing by for the results from the European Union vote on whether more restrictions should be applied to the use of neonicotinoids in member states.

“When new information is released, the EPA always takes a good look at the science, evaluating it to see if there’s something we need to factor into our thinking here,” says Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, the EPA’s General Manager for Hazardous Substances and New Organisms.

“While existing New Zealand rules around the use of neonicotinoids are working, there could still be instances where non-target organisms, like bees and insects are exposed to the insecticide.”

When used incorrectly, neonicotinoids potentially could have negative impacts on pollinators, says Dr Thomson-Carter.

The current New Zealand rules include not spraying insecticides in close proximity to bee hives or crops with budding or flowering plants where bees may gather and feed.

The European Food Safety Authority recently published updated risk assessments of three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

The assessments confirmed that many uses of these neonicotinoids represent a risk to the three types of bees they assessed, says Dr Thomson-Carter.

The EPA works closely with the OECD-initiated Pollinator Incidents Information System, through the EPA’s Pollinator Strategy.

“This system is building a global picture of bee health and incidents, so we can compare what’s happening in New Zealand with other countries bearing in mind that agricultural practices in New Zealand are not the same as in the EU,” says Dr Thomson-Carter.

“This is key to finding practical ways to protect our pollinators, which can only be achieved by sharing information and raising awareness among chemical manufacturers, bee keepers and the public.”

The European Union’s decision to expand its controversial ban of neonicotinoid pesticides pleased environmental groups but was greeted with concern by farming associations, which fear economic harm.

In 2013, the EU placed a moratorium on clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam, forbidding their use in flowering crops that appeal to honey bees and other pollinating insects.

The pesticides are commonly coated on to seeds to protect them from soil pests; when the seed germinates, the pesticide is absorbed and spreads through the tissue, Science magazine reported.

It eventually reaches pollen and nectar, which is how pollinators are exposed. Many studies have shown harm to pollinators in laboratory settings; large field trials have produced mixed results.

The European Commission last year proposed extending the ban of the three pesticides to all field crops because of growing evidence they can harm domesticated honey bees and wild pollinators.

A scientific review by the European Food Safety Authority, released this February, added momentum to the campaign.

The representatives of member states passed the ban today in the commission’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed.

Neonicotinoids may still be used in permanent greenhouses.

Fewer weeds, more wheat should result from EPA’s approval of new herbicide

A herbicide to control problematic weeds in wheat crops and thus increase crop yields has been approved by the Environmental Protection Authority.

An application from Bayer New Zealand Limited to import Sakura 850 WG was considered by a decision-making committee convened by the EPA. This product contains pyroxasulfone, an active ingredient not used before in New Zealand.

It will be imported ready-packaged for sale, and is intended for use by commercial growers and contractors, not home-gardeners.

“The EPA has concluded that this product offers considerable benefits to wheat growers,” said General Manager of Hazardous Substances and New Organisms, Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter.

“We are confident that, with the required controls in place, Sakura 850 WG poses negligible risk to aquatic organisms, earthworms, non-target plants, birds and bees. Risks to human health and the environment that could arise from using Sakura 850 WG will be managed by the controls we have set.

“These include creating a 15 metre buffer zone around any bodies of water, and restricting use to once a year at any given location. The product may only be used in the April-May period, which reduces the risk of groundwater contamination.

“Application is restricted to ground-based methods only, with no aerial spraying permitted. The EPA has set a maximum application rate, and there is a range of information that must be included on product labels.

“These controls are designed to ensure that wheat growers can reap the benefits of the product, which include controlling problematic weeds, and so increasing wheat yields and profitability.”

No formulations using a herbicide of this sort are currently available in New Zealand and no local weed species are known to have developed a resistance to them.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

Submissions sought on EPA proposals to change new organism status

What do a beetle, a ladybird, a wasp, a bacterium and a virus have in common?

The answer is that their status as a “new” organism under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act could be reclassified to reflect their established presence in New Zealand.

The organisms are a beetle known as Cybocephalus sp, a ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), a wasp (Aridelus rufotestaceus) a bacterium, (Komagataeibacter xylinus) and avirus (Listeria phage P100)

Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, General Manager of the Environmental Protection Authority’s HSNO team explains:

“Under a process known as ‘denewing’ the EPA is seeking public submissions on a proposal to remove the ‘new organism’ status of these species – a move which would free up existing research impediments for scientists wishing to work with them or further study them.”

Input from the public and interested parties is now being sought on the effects of this proposed change.

To find out more you can view the proposals below:

Submissions close at 5 pm on Friday 27 April 2018.

Readers can go HERE for a submission form.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency.