Extra month is added to EPA’s call for glyphosate information

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has further extended its call for information on the herbicide glyphosate.

The current closing date had been tomorrow – Friday 24 September. This has been pushed out to 5pm Friday 22 October.

“We are conscious that some individuals or organisations which may wish to provide input will have had other priorities and pressures to manage due to the COVID-19 alert level changes,” says Dr Chris Hill, General Manager of the EPA’s Hazardous Substances group.

“To ensure these parties get an opportunity to have their say, we have extended the deadline by a month.”

Glyphosate has been used as a weed killer by home gardeners, farmers, and councils in New Zealand since the 1970s. Although it is commonly known as the active ingredient in Roundup, 89 mixtures containing glyphosate have been approved for use in this country.

The EPA monitors international developments and continually reviews global research on hazardous substances, including glyphosate, and says it has no evidence that risks associated with using glyphosate, or its hazardous nature, have changed.

But it believes  the time is right to take another look at this substance.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are reviewing the classification and approval of glyphosate.  Their conclusions are set to be released in mid-2022.

It is issuing a call for information to build a greater understanding of how glyphosate-containing products are being used in New Zealand by the time the EU findings are published and to ensure it is better prepared to assess those findings.

Find out more and respond to the call for information
Read more about glyphosate

Source:  Environmental Protection Authority

EPA extends its call for information on the use of glyphosate

Hard on the heels of news that recent surveys by scientists have found half or more of arable farms and vineyards in some regions have weeds resistant to commonly used herbicides, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has extended its call for information on the herbicide glyphosate by four weeks.

The new deadline to respond is now 5 pm on Friday 24 September.

General Manager of Hazardous Substances and New Organisms, Dr Chris Hill, says the EPA wants to hear from more professional users and those involved in the supply of glyphosate.

“While we have had a good response from the public, we want to make sure importers, retailers, professional users and industry groups have had enough time to collate information and provide meaningful data. We have already received one request from a major industry group for an extension. The more information we receive the better informed we’ll be to decide what next steps to take.

“So far, professional users, industry organisations and suppliers have made up just over 40 percent of total respondents; the rest are members of the public. We have received 136 responses since we opened the call for information at the end of April.” Continue reading

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.

Environmental Protection Authority to review EFSA findings on pesticide threat to bees


Any neonicotinoids in this?

Controversial insecticides known as neonicotinoids pose a danger to wild bees and managed honey bees, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, said in a report released today.

Bayer, a maker of so-called neonics, disputed EFSA’s findings, Science magazine said in its report on the EFSA’s work. But the new study is likely to give a boost to the push for tighter European regulation of the chemicals.

Science described neonicotinoids as systemic pesticides.

Often, they are used to coat seeds to protect them when they are planted in the ground. After the seed germinates, the pesticide spreads throughout the growing plant and guards it against nibbling insects. But the insecticide is also present in the nectar and pollen, meaning pollinators get dosed, too. Many studies have shown that the chemicals can affect the ability of honey bees to learn and forage, although industry scientists have disputed whether the experiments are realistic enough.

The European Commission last year proposed—but has not yet adopted—extending a partial ban on neonics to all field crops.

In 2013, the commission banned the use of three neonics—imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam—on flowering field crops such as corn, sunflower, and rapeseed. The pesticides can still be used in greenhouses, winter cereals, and for spraying certain crops after they flower.

The ban was based on a review by EFSA.

Starting in 2015, EFSA staff analysed 588 new studies, including some that looked at effects on bumble bees and solitary bees, Science reported.

The conclusion: Most uses of neonics pose a risk to both managed honey bees and wild bees, although the level of risk varies by species and route of exposure. The three pesticides can hinder learning and navigation in bees, for example, and harm reproduction. One likely way that wild bees are exposed is through contamination of plants other than the crops. Neonicotinoids in farm soil can spread via water or wind-blown dust to nearby ground, where the pesticides are absorbed by weeds and wildflowers. EFSA admitted that “information on this phenomenon is somewhat limited” but concluded that it could be a way for bees to be exposed to harmful amounts of neonics.

Reporting on the EFSA findings, Radio New Zealand noted there is some use of the controversial pesticide in this country,  but it is controlled by the Environmental Protection Authority.

Radio NZ quoted Professor Phil Lester, from Victoria University, who is one New Zealand’s leading insect experts. He said the findings were concerning.

“It is worrying, no one wants to see honey bees die and our pollinator populations collapse.”

“(The study) is a massive piece of work, it’s 1500 papers that they’ve reviewed so it’s very very expensive. I’m sure countries all around the world will be lapping it up and utilising it.”

Professor Lester said the new analysis was much more significant than any done before it, because it was not a single study on one particular country.

“I think it will be of use. New Zealand is still quite different from Europe so we have to interpret those findings in light of our crops and the way New Zealand uses neonicotinoids.”

He said while bees were vital to the agricultural sector for pollinating crops, pesticide use was a balancing act.

“We also need to recognise that agriculture needs to use pesticides at times, we’re not in a situation at the moment where we can stop using pesticides.”

The Environmental Protection Authority told Radio NZ it had been keeping up with the new analysis and is waiting for publication of the risk assessments.

It said it would review this fully before commenting on any possible implications for New Zealand.

Will you be in A1 shape if you switch to A2 milk? Let’s look into the science

Nicholas Fuller, a research fellow at the University of Sydney, has been looking into the science behind the claims made by the producers and marketers of “A2 milk” and issues raised during the debate about whether A2 is better for us than regular milk.

His article has been published by Sciblogs at the same time as a feud over labelling between dairy companies is litigated in the Federal Court in Australia.

Fuller starts by describing A2 milk.

Cow’s milk contains protein. The primary group of milk proteins are the caseins. A1 and A2 are the two primary types of beta-casein (beta-casein is one of the three major casein proteins) present in milk. They are simply genetic variants of one another that differ in structure by one amino acid.

The A1 protein produces beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7), which has been shown to alter gastrointestinal function (slowing down bowel movements from stomach to anus) and increase inflammation in the gut in animal studies.

Commonly, both A1 and A2 types of casein are expressed in cow’s milk in Europe, America, Australian and New Zealand, and hence the milk we find on our supermarket shelves.

Fuller then looks at the patenting and marketing issue.

The hype surrounding A2 milk came about after the patenting of a genetic test by the a2 Milk Company. The patent allows the company to determine what type of protein a cow produces in its milk and therefore license dairy farmers that prove their cows express only A2 protein in their milk (and not A1 protein). A2 milk is marketed by the a2 Milk Company to contain only the A2 type of beta-casein.

Initially, there were marketing claims that A1 proteins were harmful to our health, but a full review of the literature by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2009 nullified such claims. Insufficient evidence exists to suggest A1 proteins have a negative effect on our health. The EFSA found no relationship between drinking milk with the A1 protein and non-communicable diseases such as type 1 diabetes, heart disease and autism, which is the focus of much of the hype.

After these findings were released to the public, the marketing focus shifted towards the A1 protein causing digestive discomfort and symptoms usually associated with lactose intolerance (for example, bloating and flatulance).

Fuller notes that the first peer-reviewed human study was conducted with a small number of people (41). Only ten of the participants reported an intolerance to commercial cow’s milk. They compared differences after drinking milk containing only the A1 protein versus milk containing only the A2 protein (the milk on our supermarket shelves is usually a combination of the A1 and A2 milk proteins).

Interestingly, they found after drinking the milk containing A1 protein only, participants reported softer stools than when drinking the A2 milk. These results tend to go against the evidence in animal studies that the A1 protein slows down the movement of contents through the gastrointestinal system, which could be thought to bulk up stool content and hence result in harder stools.

The authors of this study suggested the softer stools might have been caused by an increase in gut inflammation caused by consumption of the A1 protein. Gut inflammation can cause malabsorption of fluids and nutrients and hence softer stools. However, the study found no difference in calprotectin (a measure of inflammation) between the two milk groups, so it failed to draw any sound conclusions.

Fuller then dips into the second study conducted in humans, which was published this year. Unlike the previous study, he notes, it did use common commercial milk that contains both the A1 and A2 milk proteins and compared this to consuming milk containing only the A2 protein.

It included only people (45 subjects) who self-reported an intolerance to cow’s milk.

Of the 45 subjects, 23 were diagnosed as lactose-intolerant. Someone who is intolerant to cow’s milk has an inability to digest lactose due to a deficiency in the lactase enzyme. But it is important to note lactose is present in both A1 milk and A2 milk.

The results showed A2 milk did not cause an increase in unpleasant digestive symptoms (for example, bloating and flatulence) usually associated with milk consumption in those who are lactose-intolerant. When cow’s milk containing both the A1 and A2 proteins was provided, there was an exacerbation of stomach upset. However, this would be expected for someone who is sensitive to dairy products, or lactose-intolerant.

The changes in inflammatory markers observed in this study need to be interpreted carefully. Despite some statistically significant changes between the two milk groups being noted, these aren’t necessarily clinically relevant and therefore do need further investigation in a much larger study with a greater sample size.

The question, then, is whether we should opt for A2 milk when we go to the supermarket and what the benefits will be.

Fuller’s advice is:

For those who do not experience any problems with milk consumption, there is no evidence to suggest any benefit in having A2 milk over the common consumed commercial milk, which contains both the A1 and A2 proteins. For less than half the price per litre, the latter would be the favoured option.

For those who self-report an intolerance to milk or are lactose-intolerant, A2 milk may be a suitable selection to prevent commonly reported stomach upset complaints, but so too is lactose-free milk. Lactose-free milk does not contain lactose, which is the naturally occurring sugar that causes the gastrointestinal problems in the lactose-intolerant. Consequently, what is needed is a study comparing the effects of lactose-free milk versus A2 milk in those who are lactose-intolerant.

Most importantly, Fuller concludes, longer-term studies with larger sample sizes are needed, because both of the studies conducted in humans so far have been conducted with small numbers over short durations.

The most important thing is that we don’t exclude milk products from the diet, as dairy is a rich source of calcium that is readily bio-available (meaning we can absorb the majority of it from this food source). Calcium is essential for the prevention of osteoporosis (brittle or weak bones) and an adult should aim forthree dairy serves per day.

Nicholas Fuller is Research Fellow, Clinical Trials Development & Analysis, University of Sydney.

The original article can be found here. 

EU to vote again on pesticide ban to save honeybees

Scientific support is growing for a proposed ban of pesticides called neonicotinoids to reverse a massive die-off of honeybees but some experts are calling for more field studies. Hives are dying off around the globe in a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, says a report (here) in Scientific American. Pesticides called neonicotinoids are among the proposed culprits. These are supposed to be less harmful to beneficial insects and mammals than the previous generation of chemicals.

Debate over neonicotinoids has become fierce. Conservation groups and politicians in the United Kingdom and Europe have called for a ban on their use, but agricultural organizations have said that farmers will face hardship if that happens. Next Monday, European governments will take a crucial vote on whether to severely restrict or ban three neonicotinoids.

Scientific American says neonicotinoids, which poison insects by binding to receptors in their nervous systems, have been in use since the late 1990s. They are applied to crop seeds such as maize (corn) and soya beans, and permeate the plants, protecting them from insect pests.


Continue reading

European food safety authorities reject GM corn that can be used in NZ

Europe’s food safety regulator has rejected a form of GM corn that is legal to use in New Zealand foods, according to a press release from the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety at the University of Canterbury.

The same product was approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in 2010.

The new GM corn’s rejection by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) upholds a standard set by the international food safety guidance body known as Codex. This requires assessments of GM foods to be made with reference to the conventional food it was derived from.

Continue reading