14 Mar 2018

Vanuatu kava industry to keep door open on tudei

2:07 pm on 14 March 2018

Vanuatu's kava industry is to have ongoing discussions about the scientific data on the "tudei" variety of kava.

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Photo: RNZ / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Last week an industry meeting was held in Port Vila amid hopes of some kava producers that restrictions on tudei might be eased.

Sensitivity around the meeting was evident in the exclusion of local journalists from covering the event.

The meeting resolved that while there's a lack of scientific information on tudei, there will be a review of all existing scientific literature on it to incorporate into ongoing consideration.

A kava exporter and chairman of the Vanuatu Kava Industry Association, Michael Louze said he was happy with the outcome of the meeting

He said the current policy focussing on the export of the "noble" variety of kava will continue because this quality is what importers want.

"The point about the tudei, maybe in the future there will be a market for some components. It's not for the drinking market... but for the same pharmaceutical market that we have now, for the properties.

"Right now the market is not there. But we should not close the door to it. We should study it more. That was the positive conclusion about this meeting."

Proponents of tudei kava argue that there is no vigourous evidence that it is bad for consumers' health.

But the industry fears that compromising the focus on quality kava exports will risk a repeat of the German ban on kava imports in 2002 which was based on a study later found to be inadequate and subsequently overturned. However the reputational damage to Vanuatu kava was significant and enduring.

Currently, ni-Vanuatu can export tudei kava as long as it is specifically requested by an importer.

"We still have the noble policy that means we know the noble are first and are the ones we currently should be exporting and are exporting; and when we are exporting the kava is tested to make sure we don't export tudei or wild kava, " explained Mr Louze.

"Currently all the production and promotion is on the noble kava. That's what defines the quality. That's what the industry and the importers want. That's what we should plant, and what we should export at this stage.

Mr Louze said that the issue around tudei kava were a complex situation which the industry was trying to improve with the involvement of all stakeholders.

"It's now about new research at this stage," he explained. It's just about looking into the existing scientific data, what is existing, and compiling that together.

"I'm happy because I think we all understood the issues. I think everyone was a bit concerned in the beginning There were a lot of media issues, and things like this. But ultimately the result is good.

"We have agreed to work together, that means policy makers and industry to discuss issues."

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