24 May 2024

Hydrogen cyanamide 'safe to use' but growers face new rules - EPA

12:10 pm on 24 May 2024
Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

The scrutiny over the chemical's use on crops such as kiwifruit has been going on for five years. Photo: Zespri

Kiwifruit growers are relieved they can keep using an agri-chemical that has been under scrutiny recently and used in New Zealand orchards since the 1980s.

There have been five years of uncertainty around the use of hydrogen cyanamide, a chemical commonly used on kiwifruit vines as well as apple, cherry or apricot crops, to help buds form.

Grounds for a reassessment to be carried out by environmental regulator the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) were established in September 2019, following international reports the chemical could be carcinogenic - which were later de-bunked.

Two years later, the EPA opened consultation on the issue.

The EPA consulted with industry, iwi, the public and other stakeholders throughout the process - and announced on Thursday it was a hazardous substance that it deemed safe to use.

During the consultation period, 57 percent of the 202 submissions opposed a ban or more controls around its use, while 38 percent were in support.

Public hearings were https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/country/510314/environmental-protection-authority-holds-hearings-on-hi-cane-usage held throughout February], in addition to the regulator's own expert advice and assessments. These were then considered by an independent decision-making committee.

EPA's general manager of hazardous substances and new organisms, Dr Chris Hill, said all hazardous substances must be safe for the trained professionals who used them and the environment.

He said the reassessment period found that the benefits outweighed the potential risks around its use.

"It's important New Zealanders have confidence that hazardous substances, such as hydrogen cyanamide, are safe to use, and the rules for their use are appropriate for the level of risk," Hill said.

"This decision demonstrates our robust reassessment process operating as it was designed to do, with the aim of achieving the best possible outcomes for people and the environment."

It's enforced new rules effective immediately for the trained professionals who use hydrogen cyanamide.

These included spray volumes, methods, the need for buffer zones and spraying will now be permitted only between July to September.

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A kiwifruit orchard. Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

Lengthy expensive process

Grower group NZKGI chief executive Colin Bond welcomed the decision. He said a ban would have had a massive economic impact, closing orchards and hurting the communities that relied on the industry's prosperity.

"The reality is a wrong decision today would've spelt the end for some growers' businesses. As many as 15 percent of the industry we think wouldn't have survived, and another 15 percent approximately would've been under severe financial stress, so the outcome is extremely important and we are grateful we got the right outcome today."

He said the reassessment of the chemical has been a marathon and a costly one.

"It's been frustrating that we've spent five years to come to this conclusion," Bond said.

"It's been a huge amount of investment from KGI and other industry stakeholders in terms of the retained earnings and the money we've had to put on the line to fight this case.

"If we're going to have a successful primary industry in this country, we need to make sure the EPA, the regulator, is fit for purpose, so we feel that more work needs to be done there."

NZKGI will now analyse the impact of the new restrictions and eventually consult its growers about them.

Ministers pleased

The government has also welcomed the decision, including both Environment Minister Penny Simmonds and Agriculture Minister Todd McClay.

Simmonds said the decision was based on an appropriate balance between environmental and economic concerns.

"The EPA has found the product is non-carcinogenic and that health and environmental impacts can be mitigated by rules to protect workers and limit spray drift," Simmonds said.

She labelled it "unfortunate" that the EPA took more than four years to make its decision.

"I have made it clear to the EPA that they must prioritise decision making, compliance, monitoring and enforcement functions. Reassessments should be completed in a timely manner to provide certainty to industry."

Agriculture Minister Todd McClay said he will discuss the rule changes with industry to better understand the operational effects and their impacts on growers.

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