Soil and Health is pressing for an immediate ban on neonicotinoids in NZ

The Soil & Health Association has welcomed the Environmental Protection Authority’s announcement to review the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in New Zealand but wants action now to impose an immediate ban.

The EPA’s announcement was in response to the European Union member states’ decision last week to ban the outdoor use of three types of neonicotinoid (clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam) because of the serious danger they pose to bees. The ban is expected to come into force by the end of 2018 and will mean they can only be used in closed greenhouses.

“Neonics are just as toxic in New Zealand as they are anywhere else in the world – they’re bee-killing compounds,” says Soil & Health chair Graham Clarke.

“While concentrations of use might differ, its use as an insecticide spray is widespread and over huge areas, and the majority of commercial seeds sold in New Zealand are treated with neonicotinoids.”

New Zealand regulations prohibit the spraying of neonicotinoids when crops are in flower.

But Soil and Health says neonicotinoids can persist in the soil, meaning subsequent crops or weeds flowering can express the toxic chemical.

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Soil and Health seeks community support for a GE-free New Plymouth

The Soil & Health Association is encouraging the New Plymouth District Council to adopt precautionary provisions in the New Plymouth District Plan for any genetically engineered (genetically modified) organisms that may be trialled or used commercially.

The Proposed Draft New Plymouth District Plan, which is open for public feedback, makes no mention of GMOs.

Soil & Health is calling on New Plymouth district residents to make submissions by 5pm Friday 16 March.

“We want to ensure that the Council adequately protects the district from the significant adverse effects posed by GMO use by including strong precautionary or prohibitive GMO policies and rules into its District Plan,” says Soil & Health National Council member Marion Thomson.

“We call on the New Plymouth District Council to follow the lead of the other councils around New Zealand that have already adopted precautionary provisions and banned the outdoor release of GMOs via their local policy statements and plans.”

Auckland Council, Far North District Council and Whangarei District Council have prohibited the outdoor release of GMOs and made field trials a discretionary activity with performance standards regarding liability and the posting of bonds.

Ms Thomson claims GMOs threaten the economic sustainability of a wide range of agricultural activities that benefit from having GE-free status, including dairy, honey, forestry and horticulture.

“No matter how carefully conditions are crafted, there inevitably remains a risk that they may be breached by poor management, human error, natural events such as severe storms or even sabotage,” says Ms Thomson.

Current laws are inadequate to properly protect communities from the potential adverse effects of GE, she said, citing the lack of provision under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act for financial liability for GMO contamination resulting from the release of an approved GMO. This means those people or companies responsible for causing harm may not be held liable.

But under the Resource Management Act, requirements for bonds for remediation and to cover the costs of contamination can be included in district plans if local councils choose to implement them.

Submissions can be made to by 5pm Friday 16 March.

Soil & Health’s submission can be viewed HERE. 

Source: Soil and Health Association.



Soil and Health Assn claims a win for clean, green, GE-free New Zealand

There has been no announcement from Federated Farmers – at least, not that we can find.

But the Soil & Health Association says it is celebrating the decision by Federated Farmers to abandon its appeal against the right of councils to control the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their territories.

Federated Farmers filed its latest appeal earlier this year in the Court of Appeal, after its appeals to the Environment Court and High Court had been dismissed.

“We congratulate Federated Farmers on this pragmatic and sensible decision,” said Soil & Health Chair Graham Clarke.

“Both the High Court and Environment Court have ruled that regional councils have jurisdiction under the Resource Management Act (RMA) to regulate the use of GMOs through regional policy statements or plans. The recent RMA amendments further entrench the legal rights of councils to do so. Challenging these decisions would only have cost both us, the other parties involved and Federated Farmers themselves a lot of unnecessary time and money.”

Federated Farmers had argued the Environmental Protection Authority had sole responsibility for the regulation of GMOs under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO).

The Soil & Health Association says the federation’s decision to withdraw its appeal comes after recent amendments were made to the RMA, which confirmed the High Court ruling, leading Federated Farmers to believe that they “are likely to have materially reduced the prospects of the appeal being prosecuted successfully.”

The RMA changes, which passed in April this year via the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, included a controversial section which allows the Minister for the Environment to bypass parliament and make fundamental changes to the law if it is deemed that council plans duplicate or deal with the same subject matter as central Government laws.

This would have allowed the Minister to strip councils of their ability to create GE-free food producing zones.

The National Government at the time needed the Maori Party votes to pass the changes. But the Maori Party stated in December last year that it would not support changes to the RMA if they extended to allowing the Minister to overrule planning provisions controlling the use of GMOs.

Before the final reading of the Bill, an exemption was introduced under section 360D specifically for GE crops, effectively preventing the minister from permitting GMO crops in regions that had elected to remain GMO free or impose controls on the use of GMOs.

“We are so grateful to Maori Party for their determination to ensure that appropriate clauses in the RMA were included to protect regions from uncontrolled GMO use. Had they not stood firm against the changes, then we might not have had this decision from Federated Farmers to withdraw their appeal,” says Soil & Health National Council member Marion Thomson.

“The RMA amendment further confirms the ability of all local councils to determine GMO policies in their regions. Local communities can now have confidence that their values and concerns about the use of GMOs in their regions can be considered when drafting policy statements and plans.”

The economic sustainability of a wide range of agricultural export activities reliant on GMO-free status is also protected by this ruling. The global non-GMO food market is currently valued at US$250 billion, and trends show this is only going to grow. New Zealand producers benefit from access to this huge non-GMO market.

Soil & Health maintains it has found no economic, health or environmental case for GMOs. There are huge uncertainties around the adverse effects of GMOs on natural resources and ecosystems. The risks are large and consequences irreversible.


Environmentalists critical of Nick Smith over GM policy

Former Green Party MP Steffan Browning has accused Environment Minister Nick Smith of wanting to bully the country into accepting GE plants into New Zealand “using bad law, unproven claims about productivity, and emotional spin on cancer treatment research.”

Browning (see HERE) was prompted to blog on the subject after TVNZ’s Sunday program reported the growers of organic apples and poultry producers were increasingly unhappy with Smith’s GE stance.

He contended:

Smith has been using unproven science on GE rye grass, and misleading claims about GE vaccine research to bolster his argument for radical new ministerial powers. The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, currently in front of Parliament would allow Minister Smith to override Councils who choose to declare GE-free zones for their community’s environmental and economic wellbeing.

AgResearch’s genetically engineered (GE) forages (including ryegrass) program has already wasted millions of taxpayers’ money. If the grass was released into the environment, there’s a strong chance it would wreck New Zealand’s competitive GE Free advantage; and certainly reduce the billions of dollars of export potential in organic conversions. The supposed productivity boost of GE rye grass is not just unproven, but part of a succession of failed research targets and timelines over the last 20 years.

The Soil and Health Association last week expressed concerns too (see HERE)..

The Government seems hell-bent on denying the rights of communities to have GE-free zones, which are under threat from a ‘dictator clause’, says the Soil & Health Association.

“We are continuing to stand by all the communities around New Zealand who, quite rightly, want to have control over what happens with GMOs in their regions,” said Marion Thomson, chair of Soil & Health.

The previous day Parliament had heard the second reading of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, which contains proposals that would allow the Minister for the Environment  to strip councils of their ability to create GE-Free food producing zones.

Glyphosate is the target of another report sounding health and environmental warnings

Debate about the acceptability of Monsanto’s glyphosate has been refuelled by a “state of the science” review released by Pesticide Action Network International.

The Soil and Health Association cited the review in a press statement today, describing it as the product of a large body of research documenting the adverse human health and environmental impacts of glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides which (the association maintains) “underscores the need for these to be phased out globally”.

The association is one of several environmental and health advocates which say the monograph on the world’s most widely used herbicide, commonly known as Roundup, should serve as a wake up call for regulators, governments and users around the world.

These advocates say the adverse human impacts detailed in the review include acute poisoning, kidney and liver damage, imbalances in the intestinal microbiome and intestinal functioning, cancer, genotoxicity, endocrine disruption, reproductive and developmental reduction, neurological damage, and immune system dysfunction.

The association’s press statement says:

“Aggressive public relations and marketing by glyphosate’s developer, Monsanto, has resulted in the widespread perception that the chemical is ‘safe’. Registration processes continue to allow its use without raising concerns about its safety even as new data identifying adverse effects emerge.

“This review dispels the so-called safety claims and highlights the urgent need to re-examine the authorization of products containing glyphosate. A full chemical profile is presented, along with the regulatory status of products containing glyphosate in many countries and information on viable alternatives.

The association’s press statement also refers to  the 2015 classification by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.

Just a few weeks ago, however, a peer-reviewed study by four independent expert panels dismissed the IARC’s  conclusion that the weedkiller was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

The 16 experts concluded:

“The data do not support IARC’s conclusion that glyphosate is a ‘probable human carcinogen’ and, consistent with previous regulatory assessments, further concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans.”

The panel’s findings are consistent with the conclusions of regulatory authorities around the world.

Since IARC classified glyphosate, regulatory authorities in the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Australia have publicly reaffirmed that glyphosate does not cause cancer.

Most recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency reiterated its conclusion that glyphosate should be classified as “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans”.

In May , the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) again concluded that glyphosate “is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”.

In this country, a report on glyphosate commissioned by the Environmental Protection Authority was released late in August. It says the broad-spectrum herbicide is unlikely to be carcinogenic and should not be classified as a mutagen or carcinogen….

The executive summary says:

The majority of human studies did not show an association between exposure to glyphosate and cancer. Although a small number of studies with a limited number of participants [used by WHO’s IARC committee in its decision that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”] found a weak association between glyphosate exposure and increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), others did not”. The studies that found no association between glyphosate exposure and NHL included the largest and most reliable, which included over 50,000 participants… “Based on the inconsistency in the results of the studies on glyphosate exposure and NHL, and the lack of any association in the largest, most robust study, it was concluded that there is no convincing evidence of an association between glyphosate exposure and the development of cancer in humans.

According to a report in GM Watch, the Pesticide Action Network International review has been published ahead of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s meetings on the safety of the chemical later this month.

The European Chemicals Agency is also expected to make a recommendation on glyphosate, which will inform the EU’s decision on whether to ban, restrict, or re-approve the chemical without restrictions.

Federated Farmers challenge GE ruling in the High Court

Federated Farmers is challenging an Environment Court ruling in May last year that the Resource Management Act entitles regional councils to give expression to community attitudes and control the use of genetically modified organisms, especially crops.

The feds are arguing that councils cannot use the RMA to control the use of GMOs.

They say central government passed the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act expressly for that purpose and the Environmental Protection Authority is the sole regulator of GMOs.

The farmers argue that Parliament cannot have intended local councils to duplicate that job, or thwart the authority of the EPA.

Their appeal is being heard in the High Court at Whangarei, Radio New Zealand reported.

The feds hope to overturn a decision by the Environment Court’s Judge Newhook, who found that councils did have a role to play in the use of GMOs.

He found all resource use was governed by the RMA unless specifically exempted and, since regional councils were charged with the sustainable management of resources, they must therefore be able to consider the social, economic and ecological effects of genetic modification.

GE Free Northland spokesperson Zelka Grammer said, since that decision, councils up and down the country have been responding to community pressure to limit or ban GMOs.

“Hastings District Council, for example, since Judge Newhook’s decision in our favour, they’ve proceeded with their district plan and they have banned everything,” she said.

“They have banned any outdoor GE experiments; any releases for a period of 10 years. And there was very strong support in that district for that protection.”

Northland farmer and former regional councillor Ian Walker said local councils lacked the scientific smarts to make those sorts of decisions.

Mr Walker fought to keep genetic engineering off the Northland council’s agenda.

He said the anti-GE lobby was holding back production and hurting the economy.

“None of our councillors has a science background,” he said.

“The EPA is the agency that does have the scientific knowledge to control GMO releases, and it should not be able to be undermined by councils,” he says.

“There are GM grass strains being trialled overseas at the moment that could help us weather climate change,” Mr Walker said.

“They would reduce the impact on the environment and stand up to drought and flood. But they’re effectively banned in this country and we may never get them.”

The Soil and Health Association, Whangarei District Council, the Northland Regional Council and GE-Free Northland are all represented at the appeal hearing.

Both councils are taking a precautionary approach to GMOs in their policy statements, but the Soil and Health Association is funding the court case.

The association’s co-chair, Marion Thomson, said donations had poured in from around the country – many of them from organic growers worried that GMO crops could ruin their livelihoods

Local communities should be able to control where GMO crops could be grown, she said.

“There is no tolerance for GMOs in an organic production… If someone’s growing GMO crops next to an organic property and it’s contaminated, they lose their organic certification. So it’s pretty serious, for a business.”

Mana whenua in the north are also taking a close interest in the appeal.

Dr Benjamin Pittman, of Ngāti Hau, said GMOs presented a unique problem for Māori.

He said plants and animals were seen as having their own whakapapa, or genetic lineage, and messing with that went against tikanga, the sense of what was right and good.

“We know that plants evolve and change over time through natural causes,” he said.

“The problem is this human intervention. At the very least, there needs to be discussion about it and not just a blanket decision, like this is how things are going to happen.”

The appeal hearing was expected to conclude this morning with submissions from Soil and Health Association lawyer Dr Royden Somerville QC.