Biosecurity and conservation jobs for redeployed workers

Up to 160 redeployed workers are set to pick up jobs in 55 biosecurity and conservation projects to get the regional economy moving again, Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage have announced.

The new projects in Northland, East Coast, Hawke’s Bay and Canterbury are part of the Government’s $100 million redeployment support package announced in March and will tackle the invasive wilding pines, a $4.6 billion dollar threat to farmland, waterways and ecosystems.

“As we rebuild the economy, linking up people and jobs is vital,” Damien O’Connor said.

“This is work that needs to be done and what we’ve done is accelerate projects which also saves money as the cost of removing wilding pines rises by 30 per cent each year. Continue reading

James Shaw’s regard for science may portend a shift in Green position on GM research

Towards the end of the Prime Minister’s press conference on February 25, someone without much to think about asked Jacinda Ardern what she thought of Huawei’s public relations campaign that compared itself in New Zealand to the All Blacks?

The PM was appropriately dismissive:

It’s not for me to judge the marketing campaign of any private company. All right, thank you, everyone. Last question—I’m feeling generous.

We can be grateful she was of a generous disposition.  The final question raised an issue of interest to agricultural and horticultural scientists:

Media: Are you concerned that your Conservation Minister is blocking any exploration into genetic engineering despite her officials saying that it could be an effective alternative to 1080?

PM: Look, my understanding is that the Minister’s simply expressed that that’s not currently part of the work programme, but hasn’t given a position as definitive as that. Continue reading

Conservation Minister is said to be stifling innovation and conservation initiatives

The Life Sciences Network is calling on the Minister of Conservation to lift her ban on research into genetic alternatives to 1080.

While 1080 is currently our most valuable tool in the fight against predators, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has called for innovation in the development of alternatives to 1080 including genetic technologies, the network says.

But according to an internal letter obtained by the network, Conservation Minister and Green Party MP Eugenie Sage has used her ministerial powers to forbid Predator Free 2050 from undertaking any research which could lead to the use of genetic modification or gene editing. Continue reading

Monsanto loses glyphosate cancer case – expert reaction

A review of the safety of Roundup in New Zealand is among the likely consequences of the court case in the US which resulted in Monsanto being ordered to pay US$289 million (NZ$439 million) to a former school groundskeeper after a jury found it contributed to the man’s terminal cancer.

Dewayne Johnson claimed Monsanto’s popular Roundup weed killer was linked to his disease.

After three days of deliberations, a San Francisco jury awarded him US$250 million (NZ$380 million) in punitive damages and around US$39 million (NZ$59 million) in compensatory damages.

His victory may pave the way for thousands of other cases alleging the glyphosate-based herbicide causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Media headlines in this country included “Roundup case: Scientists caution against knee-jerk NZ ban” , but disagreement was reflected in the headline which said “NZ should ban Roundup weed killer – expert” .

The Environmental Protection Authority has ruled Roundup safe to use and the US ruling hadn’t changed that position but Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said she would be asking the agency to consider adding it to its hazardous substance reassessment list in the light of the decision.

 The Science Media Centre has gathered these expert comments –

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Dr Belinda Cridge, Programme Leader and Lecturer in Toxicology, The University of Otago, comments:

“The court case is an interesting test case based on some relatively new evidence. In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) re-classfied glyphosate [the active ingredient in Roundup] as a ‘probable human carcinogen’ a decision based on an extensive review of available data including epidemiological [human] studies.

“However, the impact this finding is being debated widely, partly due to the involvement of large corporations and also because the IARC assesses a chemical’s carcinogenic potential but does not generally conduct a full risk assessment, judging where and how contact with the chemical may occur.

“These additional factors are important in determining the overall risk associated with the use of a chemical in various situations. For comparison and context the IARC has also classified red meat consumption as a probable carcinogen. This is based on good scientific evidence but highlights that understanding wider factors are critical to determining full risk. However, the underlying finding of the IARC stands, glyphosate may cause cancer under the right conditions and exposures.

“The case in the US cited that adjuvants [additives in the Roundup beyond the active glyphosate compound] may have had a synergistic effect to cause the cancer. Synergistic effects occur when two chemicals which are relatively benign separately, act together to make a small effect much worse.

“The toxicology of mixtures such as this is something that toxicologists are only just starting to really understand in any detail. It is very difficult to model and track all possible interactions. This means that there is a very real possibility that adjuvants in the Roundup mixture accelerated any carcinogenic effects but to the best of my knowledge this is hypothesised rather than proven. It is a very real possibility but has not been conclusively demonstrated using laboratory or epidemiological studies.

“The terms of the case are interesting as the plaintiff did not need to demonstrate conclusively that glyphosate caused the cancer, only that it was a plausible contributing factor. Also, Monsanto is unable to prove that glyphosate definitely did not cause the cancer. There is still no proof either way but the success of the prosecution will encourage others to seek remuneration using the IARC classification as evidence.

“Finally it is important to consider the whole picture. Roundup isn’t, and has never been, a safe panacea for all weed control. Scientists continue to learn more and more about this chemical and its effects. However, the alternative options aren’t very appealing and many are much much worse for both people and the environment.

“Roundup has been used extensively worldwide for a long time, it has a reasonably good safety record and has limited environmental effects – compared to the alternatives. Yes, improvement is needed but for farmers Roundup is one of the safer options currently available.

“My standard advice is for people to not use chemicals where they don’t need to (thinking of the home gardener, hand pulling weeds is tiresome but much safer thanany chemical alternative), know what chemicals you are using and be rigorous about safety equipment. This applies to all the chemicals we use from home cleaners to industrial chemicals in the workplace to agrochemicals such as Roundup.”

No conflicts of interest declared.

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Ian C Shaw FRSC, FRCPath, Professor of Toxicology, University of Canterbury, comments:

Is glyphosate a carcinogen?

“On March 20, 2014, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate (the active component of Roundup) as Carcinogen 2b – possibly carcinogenic to humans. Based on the available animal data, cell culture studies and epidemiological data relating to human exposures, in my opinion this was a very reasonable conclusion.

“This classification led some countries to review their use of glyphosate, because the possibility of the chemical being a carcinogen in humans put into question the benefit of glyphosate (Roundup) when set against this considerably increased risk – prior to this, glyphosate was considered safe.
NZ responded quite differently.

“The NZ EPA invited Dr Wayne Temple to consider and report on the IARC ruling and the data that was used for the IARC risk assessment. Dr Temple’s review concluded that glyphosate was unlikely to be a human carcinogen and unlikely to be genotoxic (most carcinogens are genotoxic, i.e. damage genes). On the back of this deliberation, NZ decided not to reconsider the regulatory status of glyphosate-containing herbicides.

“Dr Temple seems not to have considered the possibility of non-genotoxic carcinogenesis (some chemicals that cause cancer do not directly alter genes) in his assessment of the results. This was particularly surprising because experiments have shown that glyphosate can interact with a cell receptor (estrogen receptor) that stimulates some cells to grow – this is the way some non-genotoxic carcinogens work. In view of this, and other aspects of Temple’s report, I found the NZ EPA’s decision lacked scientific rigour.

“The US court ruling was clearly based on an acceptance of the IARC classification and the evidence underpinning it. Remember though that the courts require a balance of probabilities (i.e. only 51 per cent) for a guilty verdict, while scientists usually require much greater statistical security.

“I do not think we should base our regulatory decisions on a US court case, but I do think that the evidence that glyphosate is possibly a carcinogen in humans is robust. I favour categorising glyphosate as hazardous and reassessing its regulatory status in NZ.”

No conflicts of interest.

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Assoc Prof Brian Cox, cancer epidemiologist, University of Otago:

“In 2015, the IARC classified glyphosphate, a major ingredient of RoundUp, as a probable carcinogen (a possible cancer causing agent in their Group 2A category).

“That is, the IARC consider that there is limited evidence that glyphosphate may cause cancer, but the association with cancer may be due to other things.

“Herbicide use is seldom exposure to just one specific product and the dose, duration, type, and frequency of exposure is relevant to any potential risk.

“A jury in the USA has considered the limited evidence sufficient in an individual case to attribute a man’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma to his exposure to glyphosphate.

“A sudden reaction to one case in one US law court, that has not yet gone to the appeal court, is not an appropriate method of developing health policy in New Zealand.

“However, it is appropriate that New Zealand does keep watch on the overseas evidence about the risk of cancer from glyphosphate exposure and assess and balance of evidence of that risk and the views of users, the public and New Zealand industry.

“The IARC definition of Group 2A is: the agent is probably carcinogenic to humans. This category is used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (called chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out. This category is also used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and strong data on how the agent causes cancer.”

No conflicts of interest declared.

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Dr Kerry Harrington, Senior Lecturer in Weed Science, Massey University:

“As I am a weed scientist and not a toxicologist, it is not appropriate for me to comment on the finer details of the toxicological debate over the safety of glyphosate. However, I can report that a number of recent reviews by toxicologists around the world have reiterated that glyphosate is a safe herbicide to use and does not cause cancer. These reviews take account of animal studies which directly measure whether a chemical causes cancer or not, which I understand were not taken into consideration by IARC when they claimed glyphosate does cause cancer.

“Even if it is as carcinogenic as claimed by IARC, this would appear to be in a category that is less risky than eating preserved meats, yet there is no outcry asking for these to be banned.

“It is a concern if decisions on the use of glyphosate in New Zealand hinge on the outcome of a court case in USA where a jury of ordinary members of the public had to decide about complex issues of toxicology.

“Glyphosate is one of our major weed control tools. Hopefully the calls for it to be banned will take into consideration the low risk of problems and the crucial importance of this herbicide for sustainable weed control worldwide.”

No conflicts of interest declared.

Environmental Protection Authority chair and deputy announced

The new Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) board chairperson and deputy were announced by Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage today.

The new chairperson is Julie Hardaker; her deputy is Steven Tīpene Wilson.

The EPA board is responsible for the authority’s governance.

The EPA makes decisions for and regulates hazardous substances and new organisms as well as specified marine activities in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone. It also provides administrative support for the decision-making on major infrastructure and called in projects under the Resource Management Act and operates the New Zealand Emissions Trading Register under the Emissions Trading Scheme.

The Minister said former Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker brings a depth and breadth of experience to the role including knowledge of central and local government processes and public and employment law.

Steven Tīpene Wilson is deputy and former chair of Ngā Kaihautū Tikanga Taiao, the EPA’s Māori Statutory Advisory Committee.

He has won a NZ Planning Institute Best Practice award in strategic planning and guidance, and has knowledge of central government and regional council processes.

Outgoing chair Kerry Prendergast has served the EPA Board since its inception in 2011 and was joined by deputy chair Kevin Thompson in 2012.

Other appointments are Dr Gerda Kuschel and Professor Jeroen Douwes, who replace Kura Denness and Geoff Thompson.

Dayle Hunuia, Tim Lusk, Gillian Wratt and Nicki Crauford will continue as EPA board members.

Ministers’ Letter of Expectations to the EPA for 2018/19

Environment Minister David Parker and Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage have sent the Environmental Protection Authority a formal ‘Letter of Expectations for the 2018/19 Financial Year’

This letter outlines their high-level priorities and operational expectations of the EPA over the year. These expectations will aid the EPA’s Board in its strategic planning.

For more detailed information please read the Letter of Expectations (pdf 1.83MB)

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

 

EPA closes the shutters after its CEO is cleared by select committee majority

Environmental Protection Authority board chair Kerry Prendergast has announced – in effect – that her agency’s chief executive, Dr Allan Freeth, has been cleared of misleading Parliament’s Environment Select Committee during a session on 15 February.

She then said the EPA will be making no further statements or accepting any requests for interviews on issues raised during a briefing of the select committee.

But the report on the briefing (HERE) suggests there’s more to be explained or clarified.

First, Government members of the committee used their majority numbers to vote down an opposition request to have the Ministry for the Environment’s chief executive, Vicky Robertson, answer questions about her involvement in the departure of EPA chief scientist Dr Jacqueline Rowarth from the authority.

Second, a minority of the committee’s membership believe the independence of the EPA “has been compromised with the early departure of a highly competent and respected Chief Scientist”.

The minority contends the timing of this departure can be directly connected to concerns raised by new ministers soon after their appointment.

Kerry Prendergast has brushed over the schism within the select committee and the questions raised by the dissidents.

According to her press statement (HERE), the select committee concluded in its report, released on 4 May 2018:

“We are satisfied Dr Freeth did not mislead us at the EPA’s 2016/17 annual review hearing. The majority of us do not have any concerns to raise after reviewing the written evidence and our hearing with Dr Freeth.”

Ms Prendergast’s statement excluded the next significant chunk of the conclusion:

Continue reading

EPA meets its stakeholders

The Environmental Protection Authority today posted news of its “inaugural stakeholder event” last Thursday.  Eugenie Sage, Associate Minister for the Environment, was guest of honour.

More than 60 key stakeholders and partners attended. The aim was to share with them key elements of our work, and to discuss the ways the authority can work together to ensure New Zealand and New Zealanders remain protected.

Authority chief executive Allan Freeth told them:

“Science moves fast, so we need to too. We’ve formed a dedicated hazardous substance reassessments team to make sure we can act quickly on new information.”

Ms Sage addressed the meeting on the government’s commitment to ensuring the safe management of hazardous substances.

Presentations given by Dr Freeth and the authority’s board chair, Kerry Prendergast, are available HERE.

The authority says it envisages this will become a regular event as part of its commitment “to customer centricity and engagement”.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

 

 

EPA chief releases statement to Parliament’s Environment Select Committee

Dr Allan Freeth, Chief Executive of the Environmental Protection Authority, today released a statement he made to Parliament’s Environment Select Committee on his dealings with Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage.

The statement deals with his authority’s independence and with the recent resignation of its Chief Scientist, Dr Jacqueline Rowarth.

The statement says:

I wrote to the Committee last week, in relation to an email I received from the Honourable Nick Smith, raising concerns about apparent inconsistencies in the evidence I provided to the Select Committee at the annual review hearing on 15 February 2018.

I note that the concerns were raised in the context of questions about whether there had been any discussions with the Associate Minister for the Environment, Hon Eugenie Sage, about the Environmental Protection Authority’s then Chief Scientist, Dr Jacqueline Rowarth.

Thank you for accepting my offer to appear again, although, contrary to media reports, I am not here to correct any previous statements.

Consistent with my communication to the Committee last week, I wish to confirm to the Committee that I did not provide any inaccurate or incorrect information in my previous evidence.

As I stated, at no time, in the period covered by, and up to the Select Committee hearing, did I have any discussions with Minister Sage about Dr Rowarth or the role and independence of the EPA.

I note that, since I communicated my offer last week to return to the Committee, Minister Sage has made a personal statement to the House correcting her answers to oral questions, which touched on whether I had been present at a meeting, which I understand took place on 29 November 2017, when she told officials that her office had received correspondence about media comments by Dr Rowarth.

The Minister said in her correcting statement that (and I quote): “The EPA’s Chief Executive was not at the meeting on 29 November. The meeting was a briefing from the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) about the EPA, and I advised MfE’s Chief Executive that my office had received correspondence.”

I also wish to confirm that at no time in the period covered by, and up to the Committee hearing, had Minister Sage raised any issue with me about the scientific independence of the EPA.

The Minister’s office did send me an article that had been emailed to her by a member of the public. I acknowledged that I had seen it and offered to have a follow-up meeting with the Minister if requested. My offer of a follow-up meeting with the Minister was not acknowledged and no meeting occurred.

I regard it as entirely legitimate for the Minister’s office to send media reports to me, in the context of the responsible Minister’s oversight of the Authority. My experience up to now, has been consistent with this practice.

The Chief Executive of the Ministry for the Environment also emailed me about the article. These communications are now a matter of public record. However, I note that the questions raised with me about the EPA’s scientific independence were expressly in the context of Ministerial interference.

In conclusion, Dr Freeth said he trusts this clarifies the situation.

He assured the committee the EPA takes the issue of its independence extremely seriously. He saw no basis for concerns in regard to this status; nor did he expect concerns to be raised in the future.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

EPA chief sticks to his story over departure of chief scientist and denies interference

EPA chief executive Allan Freeth has rejected suggestions he misled a select committee over the alleged involvement of Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage in the departure of his chief scientist.

According to a Stuff report this afternoon (HERE):

Allan Freeth reappeared in front of the Environment Committee to reiterate earlier assertions that no ministerial interference took place to oust the independent regulator’s former chief scientist Dr Jacqueline Rowarth.

He also rejected suggestions she was sacked or that she was managed out, but said Rowarth had been the subject of a “vicious” and prolonged social media attack and had been unhappy for some months prior to her leaving.

Dr Rowarth resigned earlier this year.
Ms Sage told Parliament 10 days ago 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 the matter was in hand, there was no substantive discussion,” Sage said.

Her remarks nevertheless prompted allegations of political interference in the operations of an independent Crown Entity.

Dr Freeth has reaffirmed what he originally told MPs – he’d had “absolutely no discussions” with Ms Sage in relation to Dr Rowarth’s employment and the agency’s independence and the minister was incorrect.

Ms Sage has revised her version of what transpired and said her memory had failed her.

But Ms Sage did have a staffer send an email to Dr Freeth, which contained an article highly critical of Dr Rowarth and public comments she had made in support of irrigation.

She has since said she regretted sending the email.

According to the latest Stuff report:

Freeth said he binned the email shortly after he received it. While he admitted having a discussion with Rowarth about issues raised in the article – namely scientific approach Rowarth had used to defend irrigation – he rejected suggestions her employment was discussed.

He also rejected the assertion of National MP Nick Smith that, while in Opposition the relevant ministers (Sage and Environment Minister David Parker) “opposed the appointment of the chief scientist, were vocal about it, came to Government, wanted rid of her, and you (Freeth) did their bidding”.

“No. Or not that I’m aware of,” Freeth said.

“I was certainly unaware of Minister Sage’s views about Jacqueline.”

Dr Freeth stood by comments he made in an email to the select committee that he did have a conversation with Mr Parker in late November regarding Dr Rowarth. But this was only in the context of the EPA’s overall scientific approach.

Ms Sage earlier this week agreed Dr Rowarth had been subjected to a nasty social media campaign.

“I think it was vicious.

“I made a comment in the House I think, about some comments she had made. To the best of my memory, I have never criticised Dr Rowarth personally.”

Stuff’s earlier reports on the issue include –

Petition demands removal of protection agency scientist Dr Jacqueline Rowarth

EPA chief scientist Jacqueline Rowarth resigns position to take up education role

Scientist Jacqueline Rowarth says she left EPA of own accord