Hazardous substances assessments: Improving decision-making

posted in: Submissions

Submission to the Ministry for the Environment:

Date: September 20, 2019.

Discussion Document: Hazardous substances assessments: Improving decision-making – A discussion document on proposed improvements to assessments and reassessments of hazardous substances.  Publication reference number:  ME 1426

 

The Soil & Health Association support the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority (NZEPA) using a trusted regulator approach. However, this comes with the caveat that the ‘trusted regulator’ is the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Commission (EC).

This submission is made to the Ministry for the Environment who are responsible for the oversight of the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority and are best situated to improve hazardous chemicals regulations in Aotearoa New Zealand. Current regulations are out of date and cannot protect the public, nor protect tourists visiting New Zealand, as we have discussed elsewhere. The world is experiencing a global chemical acceleration. (1) New Zealand does not have the resources to safely regulate all toxic environmental chemicals the New Zealand public are exposed to, because of the sheer volume of chemicals that are produced and sold and brought into New Zealand.

Soil and Health recognise that protection from toxic chemicals will be best arrived at if Aotearoa New Zealand adopts best international practice in chemical risk assessment and regulation and this will:

  • Most effectively protect future generations as is required by principles of administrative law and the RMA and HSNO Acts.
  • Transparently uphold the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. Best regulatory practice is scientifically and practically the best way to practise guardianship – kaitiaki – of the ecosystems of Aotearoa.
  • Ensure that the human right to clean drinking water is protected, noting that the United Nations has identified that pesticides are having a serious impact on human rights, and that the ‘excessive use of pesticides are very dangerous to human health, to the environment and it is misleading to claim they are vital to ensuring food security’ .

The HSNO Act is outdated (2).

The Soil and Health Association consider that the entire Act requires substantial overhaul in order to address the current deficiencies that are contained therein. This requires substantial expertise and consultation across government, particularly with regard to the following issues:

  1. The European Commission utilises the precautionary principle and has consistently adopted a proactive approach to removing toxic pesticides from public exposure. New Zealand in contrast utilises a precautionary approach which is weaker as it only requires decision-makers to take caution into account – there is no requirement to favour caution.
  2. Soil and Health understand that the deficiencies in New Zealand regulatory risk assessment include the failure to acknowledge low-dose (hormone level) toxicity; the problem of the one chemical harming via many pathways (for example a chemical or formulation may be neurotoxic and a cholinesterase inhibitor and a developmental neurotoxicant); that current tests don’t test for allergic, inflammatory or autoimmune conditions; the potential for endocrine disruptors to contribute to the developmental origins of disease arising later in life; mixture effects and cumulative effects as body burdens; and different sensitivities.

iii. The ecosystem-based approach advocated by Professor Iorns seeks to protect ecosystem integrity and ensure the sustainable use of ecosystem resources. The current decline of New Zealand aquatic species is a clear indicator that current practices are unsustainable and are directly damaging to our freshwater species.

  1. In the meantime, a trusted regulator approach ensures the safest guardianship approach.
  2. The ‘trusted regulator’ position could be reassessed every ten years. Terms of reference assigning this role can be based on (a) transparency; (b) precautionary principle as a guiding principle of law; and an (c) interdisciplinary science capabilities approach that mandated to address ecosystem and biological complexity and is informed by the published scientific literature and identify new risk pathways and in particular (d) risk arising in infancy and childhood, a developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) approach.

 

In addition, the attached PDF, our formal submission to the FSANZ discussed these interconnected issues and contains references:

  • Europe has a stricter regulatory regime than the USA, Canada or Australia.
  • Pesticide contamination threatens the integrity and safety of New Zealand organic production.
  • Substantial scientific evidence demonstrates that agrichemicals can volatise and contaminate neighbouring organic properties.
  • New Zealand freshwater sources, and our aquifers contain increasing levels of agrichemicals
  • New Zealand fruit and vegetables and freshwater have chemicals in them that are banned in Europe
  • The Soil & Health Association are concerned that New Zealand’s 100% Pure reputation as a ‘clean green’ producer is being eroded and that the NZ EPA has been unable to keep pace with reassessments of toxic chemicals.

It is evident that EFSA and the EC have banned or strictly regulated chemicals that have not been banned or strictly regulated in the USA, Canada and Australia. Soil and Health consider New Zealand should orientate our authorisations and risk assessment with premium markets, and that this will help not only maintain essential freshwater quality, but it will stop our reputation as a 100% Pure, clean green producer from further erosion.

Current assessment and reassessment does not incorporate the benefits of regenerative agriculture in mitigating climate change. Of 80 ways to mitigate climate change, regenerative agriculture—managed grazing, silvopasture, tree intercropping, conservation agriculture, and farmland restoration—jointly rank number one of methods to sequester GHG’.

Regenerative and organic practices reduce chemical dependency. The comment ‘Reassessment decisions are difficult to make when there are no safer alternatives to existing chemicals’ does not reflect the fact that chemicals need not be replaced with chemical alternatives. There is a significant body of evidence demonstrating that organic, biological and regenerative agriculture which places soil and nutrition science at the heart of agriculture, building the immune systems of healthy plants and animals can result in plants and animals that not only exhibit greater resistance to disease, but taste better and store better for export purposes.

Furthermore the Soil and Health Association expressed concern that the HSNO Discussion Document confines the scope of discussion / terms of reference to avoid :

  1. Discussing controversial issues that may be contributing to decline in public trust of risk assessment agencies and processes. There was no discussion of the need to address these issues: industry selected and supplied data, endocrine disruption, mixture effects, adjuvant toxicity and persistence, developmental neurotoxicity risk) that are of the essence to human health as identified by Professor Catherine Iorns, Dr. Meriel Watts , and others.
  2. Asking questions about improving risk assessment to protect health and environment. The terms of reference are narrowly framed and appear to adopt a mechanistic assessment/reassessment process orientation that cannot address chemical and biological complexity.

 

Note: As at April 2020 there has been no policy decisions released as a result of this consultation process.

 

 

References:

(1) UNEP 2019 Global Chemicals Outlook II – From Legacies to Innovative Solutions: Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,

(2)   Iorns, C. (2018). Permitting Poison: Pesticide Regulation in Aotearoa New Zealand. EPLJ, 456-490. P.1