The coalition of groups that have long campaigned for the banning of the controversial pesticide endosulfan is extremely pleased that New Zealand’s Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) has announced it will ban it. Effective immediately. Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand (PAN ANZ), Soil and Health Association and Safe Food Campaign have been urging ERMA for many years to place a ban on the use of endosulfan.
Action to get rid of the insecticide began back in the mid 1990s, when Dr Meriel Watts of PAN ANZ, then with the Soil & Health Association, worked with Toxins Action Group and other community groups in Auckland to get the City Council to stop using endosulfan on sports fields because of the risk of breast cancer posed by the pesticide.
Endosulfan, already banned in 55 countries including all the European Union countries, is an insecticide used on a wide range of fruit and vegetables and also on sports turf in New Zealand. Illegal residues have also been found twice in beef destined for South Korea, resulting in enormous costs for exporters.
“We are delighted that ERMA has overturned its earlier ‘proposed’ decision to keep using this pesticide” stated Dr Meriel Watts, Co-ordinator of the Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand. “It would have been deeply embarrassing for New Zealand to continue its use when the pesticide has entered the process for a global ban under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.”
Endosulfan has triggered international action because of its toxicity, persistence in the environment and its ability to accumulate up the food chain. In October the Review Committee of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) agreed that endosulfan meets the screening criteria for a POP, and is now undertaking a rigorous assessment preparatory to listing it for a global ban, alongside DDT and its other persistent organochlorine relatives.
“ERMA has made the right decision to get rid of a pesticide that is contaminating the global food supply,” declared Ms Alison White of the Safe Food Campaign. “Endosulfan has been found in body fat, breast milk, placental tissue and umbilical cord blood, largely as a result of residues in food. We would also welcome an urgent reassessment of other hazardous pesticides still used in New Zealand, notably the herbicide 2,4-D and the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos,” she added. “Like endosulfan, these pesticides can have an effect on hormone function even at minute doses. Chlorpyrifos and 2,4-D have both have been linked to brain damage in young animals, embryos and foetuses.”
“ERMA have made a real Christmas present for food safety and the environment by banning the use of endosulfan in New Zealand from January 16, 2009,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.
“The decision is much better than previous ERMA reassessment decisions would have had us expect and is a credit to the many people that signed the petitions and made submissions, as part of the campaigns of Dr Meriel Watts and Pesticide Action Network, Soil & Health, Safe Food Campaign, Sue Kedgley Green Party MP, and also those in Tauranga that campaigned against the sports field use of the insecticide.”
The three organisations carried out a number of residue tests on produce earlier this year to draw attention to the extent of endosulfan residues, especially in tomatoes.
“We found residues in both New Zealand and Australian tomatoes. The residue levels were not safe, despite being legal, and in some cases were high enough to trigger the growth of breast cancer cells. Lets hope Australia now revisits its decision to keep using the insecticide, so that the tomatoes they send us in winter will also be free of endosulfan” said Dr Watts.
“This decision vindicates our call for urgent reassessment of the older pesticides. There are many others needing reassessment and ERMA must have a substantial lift in funding to speed its reassessment process.”
“Methyl bromide, subject to international treaty due to its devastating effects on the ozone layer, is due to begin the ERMA reassessment process but economic benefits to forestry risk allowing that neurotoxin to continue being released into the atmosphere” said Mr Browning.
“While we are pleased ERMA has a program of reassessment, it will take at least another five years for just the 20 worst pesticides to be looked at. In the meantime pesticides with known adverse effects on health and the environment continue to be used. ERMA must speed up reassessments by looking at groups of substances together, such as organophosphates and pesticides which are aerially sprayed.”
“New Zealand needs to be a leader in removing pesticides not a follower,” said Mr Browning, “Organic foods produced without such pesticides are the fastest growing sector of the food and beverage trade internationally and have been identified as best value products for New Zealand to be exporting.”
Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020 and a future proofed clean green Aotearoa New Zealand.