Discover more from J.R.Bruning Talking Risk
Nope. The NZ glyphosate committee never met.
The article below was rejected in 2021 by New Zealand’s Stuff media. It was rejected as some 8 weeks before I had been given the opportunity to comment on another glyphosate related issue. However, on receiving an OIA response from the Environmental Protection Authority (NZEPA) I considered that the information was bloody relevant and important and that it was likely that the New Zealand public would want to know that the NZEPA committee tasked with deciding on whether there was new information on glyphosate (like massive US court cases) had never met to assess whether there was new information (like billion dollar lawsuits which disclosed abundant information on glyphosate’s toxicity through the discovery process - because of a regulatory authority technicality….
I’ve given up submitting to Newsroom and NZ Herald, as they had never accepted my articles, while Stuff once had. Thank goodness for Substack.
Stuff’s response to the below (submitted) OpEd was ‘Thanks for this. I do appreciate your concerns, but I feel we gave you, and others, a good chance to have your say in this In Depth article we ran only about eight weeks ago.
We will undoubtedly return to concerns about glyphosate in our coverage over the next few months, but for the time being I think the piece above was more than fair to all sides.
We will say no this time, but please keep in touch in future.
Because we must be ‘more than fair on all sides’ …. we won’t carry an article of relevance to the NZ population …
2021 Article: It’s getting worse for glyphosate.
The international news just keeps getting worse for the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in herbicides such as Roundup). But New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority (NZEPA) has so far avoided looking at the science on the risk of glyphosate.
New Zealand is a world leader in toxicity. The NZEPA has been the first regulator to approve the strongest ever glyphosate formulation (600 grams per litre), and companies claim these formulations are a world first. The applications for the herbicides Grunt 600 and Crucial 600 confirm that at the time of application, no other country had approved such toxic formulations. A scan of the approval decisions for Grunt 600 and Crucial 600 reveals a remarkable tendency to rely on previous (weaker formulation) approvals, and ignore the greater potential for persistence in the environment.
How would the New Zealand public react if they knew that glyphosate has never undergone a formal risk assessment, here in Aotearoa New Zealand?
Risk assessment is important as it shows how local human and environmental health is impacted, such as this European assessment showing how long glyphosate persists in different soil types. The highest concentrations of glyphosate in the world, yet glyphosate has never undergone risk assessment in New Zealand.
In 2020 the NZEPA released a brand-new Risk Assessment Methodology Guide, which also downplays persistence in soil, climatic and soil-type differences. And recently developed FRCaST guidelines, used to identify which substances require reassessment, don’t take into account ubiquity in the environment and publicly available scientific literature.
Toxicology Professor Ian Shaw has expressed amazement that glyphosate has been kept off the list for reassessment.
Would a court looking at obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi find in favour of the NZEPA or critique their inaction?
The NZEPA have power to begin amending controls now (S.76): to keep glyphosate out of waterways, away from roadsides and public areas, and off food and feed crops.
The tip of a toxic iceberg
It’s important to realise that glyphosate is just the tip of a toxic iceberg. We have highly persistent pesticides polluting our soils and freshwater that other regulators have heavily regulated or banned, such as neonicotinoids or the banned chlorpyrifos. Our soils and roadsides are sprayed with a growing list of banned substances that Europe said no to, a long time ago.
Our regulator appears confused, placing more emphasis on servicing industry than protecting people and the environment, following politically compromised regulators such as the U.S. EPA in a ‘race to the bottom’. Submissions for years have been densely submitted to by industry, and approached ad hoc by the public. Our scientists don’t submit. Firstly, long term funding for research looking at environmental chemicals is as scarce as hens’ teeth, and funding is short-term and precarious. Scientists are hardly going to step into politically contested spaces, to supply expert evidence. The combination of industry dominance and expert precariaty erodes our capacity to protect our environment, and weakens our ability to claim authoritative status as a premium food supplier to high value export markets.
New Zealand’s ‘Call for Information’
In 2021 the NZEPA put out a Call for Information about the use of glyphosate in New Zealand. However, this is not a risk assessment (remember, a risk assessment has never happened…) – and the New Zealand public shouldn’t be lulled into a feeling that this ‘Call’ will result in change.
The NZEPA is hinting that this ‘Call’ might result in a reassessment – but scientists such as Ian Shaw been calling for a reassessment for years. This ‘Call’ is voluntary – it is in no way a formal risk assessment. So there won’t be a comprehensive analysis of risk to soil or water organisms, cancer risk in applicators, or the potential for glyphosate to cause neurodevelopmental damage in children.
There is no evidence of a risk assessment of this chemical ever having been carried out in New Zealand.
Is the NZEPA ignoring our experts?
The scientific evidence that glyphosate is harmful to health, continues to accumulate, while the NZEPA adopts perplexing responses that appear to minimise or marginalise more authoritative scientific findings. In 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), that glyphosate probably caused cancer, and definitely caused cancer in laboratory animals.
The IARC paper appeared discounted by NZEPA of a 2016 Cancer Review, authored by a retired toxicologist. Following this, in 2017, myself, together with Member of Parliament Steffan Browning, co-authored the Green Party’s white paper ‘Why did the NZ EPA ignore the world authority on cancer?’ Although supported by a spectrum of scientific and legal academics, our paper was ignored by the NZEPA.
In 2018 the NZEPA Cancer Review was heavily criticised by epidemiologists and experts in public health and cancer, in a paper published in the New Zealand Medical Journal (NZMJ), as being very narrow in its focus. They recommended a reassessment – or risk assessment, of glyphosate.
The NZMJ paper articulated that unlike the IARC paper, the NZEPA review relied on flawed industry data supplied to the European regulator. The NZEPA review also failed to consider important factors such as oxidative stress and the toxicity of the full commercial formulation (which includes other ingredients as well as glyphosate).
The IARC is recognised internationally as the gold standard for assessing whether a substance may be carcinogenic, and transparency is critical to this process. While evidence supporting the IARC finding continues to accumulate, the NZEPA has never responded to the NZMJ paper.
Cancer claimants win court cases
After the IARC determination came the U.S. lawsuits. Case after case, and subsequent appeals found in favour of the claimants who had cancer. Bayer, the company who purchased Monsanto in 2018, is now paying over $10 billion to cancer victims. Bayer continues to claim, as the NZEPA does, that glyphosate is safe as used on the label.
The U.S. cases were important as claimants to submit scientific studies, excluded from conventional risk assessment, to the court for consideration, and the discovery process brought to light secret industry data.
The court cases called into question the close relationships between the pesticide regulator, the U.S. Environmental Protection Authority, and Monsanto. In comments following one trial Judge Chhabria stated that:
‘while the jury was shown emails of Monsanto employees crassly attempting to combat, undermine or explain away challenges to Roundup's safety, not once was it shown an email suggesting that Monsanto officials were actively committed to conducting an objective assessment of its product’.
The trials also drew attention to relationships between regulators and industry applicants. Industry controls the bulk of the data considered in risk assessment, and commercial in confidence agreements keep the data from public scrutiny.
However, in 2019 a European court case found in favour of disclosure and decided that the public should have access to these secret documents. More recently an independent review considered the industry data supplied to the 2015 European assessment. This review found that the quality of industry studies was very poor, and that many studies should not have been accepted as they did not comply with modern international guidelines.
Management suppression of regulatory scientists’ findings
The actions of U.S. EPA management to suppress the work of institutional scientists whose job it is to assess risk has recently been revealed. Four U.S. EPA scientists allege that management pressured them to downplay information that might show adverse effects, such as the potential for pesticides to contribute to developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity and cancer. The actions of the scientist whistleblowers, supported by internal memos, demonstrate how for years, scientists have been pressured to alter documentation and downplay risk.
When the IARC identified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, the NZEPA went straight to Monsanto to request who at the U.S. EPA they should contact for information on how to deal with this news.
Do New Zealand glyphosate reassessment ‘fails’ rest on an expensive technicality?
In 2021, the NZEPA continued to claim that ‘there is insufficient new scientific evidence to justify a reassessment of glyphosate’.
While many people have requested an assessment over the years, unless Chief Executive Dr Allan Freeth personally makes the request, the NZEPA require a ‘formal’ request to take action. This is unlikely as the public – and apparently authoritative scientists such as Shaw and the NZMJ authors - are expected to stump up $1000 just to request that the NZEPA think about potential reassessment, or $25,000 to actually pay for the assessment.
The HSNO Act does not state that the request must be ‘formal’ nor that it be paid out of the pockets of the public. This is a recent initiative. The resulting financial barrier is a massive deterrent to democracy, and directly favours industry polluters.
Theoretically, following a formal application, an NZEPA sub-committee would then deliberate as to whether there is sufficient ‘new information’ to produce grounds for reassessment. As now retired MP Catherine Delahunty found with triclosan, spending the money does not guarantee action.
However– because no formal application has been made, this committee has never met to assess whether there is no new information. This failure to meet, may hinge on an administrative ‘stump up the cash’ technicality that few people know about.
If the NZEPA committee were to meet – a sceptical analyst might suggest that their experience in the area of cancer and health risk is substantially less authoritative than that of the authors of the NZMJ paper, who were ignored by the NZEPA.
The Greens 2017 white paper drew attention to the importance of the NZEPA acting in the public interest – as NZEPA decisions flow through government, impacting how the Ministries of Health, Environment and Primary Industries act to protect human and environmental health, and protect export products from contamination.
Japan’s recent rejection of New Zealand honey because of glyphosate contamination demonstrates that New Zealand may be underestimating the export risk. NZEPA decisions also impact decision-making at local and regional council level, as Councils approve spraying based on NZEPA classifications.
Action needed to protect human and environmental health
The NZMJ article suggested changes should be made in order to prevent ‘the undermining of confidence’. The Greens white paper made several recommendations (section 8.2) including proposing a public inquiry and the immediate establishment of controls to protect public and environmental health.
Without high-level strategic action to transparently address politically controversial chemicals in our environment, and follow best practice, rather than ‘race to the bottom’ regulation, we will continue to witness the silent and sustained decline of environmental and human health in Aotearoa.
When we don’t make a space for science that can criticise the technologies we use - we are slow to recognise harm. It’s not just increased cancer in farmers, or risk to children walking down a footpath as the spray team drive by. It’s recognising that repeat sprays of glyphosate - & creating infinte mixtures with other herbicides to try to deal with herbicide resistance - have endpoints.
As resistance to herbicide mixtures grows, non-chemical weed management makes more sense (much more sense than morphing into scarily environmentally unaccountable penetration technologies). We can import great equipment from Europe - Grazor, Dücker - and a search online will find Kiwi contractors with these products. The Europeans moved more swiftly to recognise the persistant, bioaccumulative and toxic nature of many herbicides (such as the triazines class which accumulate in our groundwater) - and regulate them. Such regulation sets the stage for development of quite cool robotics and mowing equipment.
New Zealand doesn’t like to criticise technology, nor draw attention to environmental problems that are driven by Anthropogenic activities through monitoring, analysis and - well - if you don’t fund it it doesn’t happen. Funding precarity produces the perfect chilling effect on uncomfortable information production.
It puts us on the back foot. It makes us vulnerable to detection in international markets who have less captured regulators.
In the intervening period, New Zealand scientists conducted a survey to establish the extent of glyphosate resistance on New Zealand farms. Where they expected to find a little bit of glyphosate resistance on our farms - they’ve established that some 50% of farmland carries glyphosate resistant weed species. Thankfully this was reported by Rural News Group and Farmers Weekly and AgResearch.
They’re now attempting to turn the elephant around, but of course remember, that in the last 30 years, with extension services defunded, the science-farmer information interface has been limited, and while the Foundation for Arable Research does some good work, they’re ultimately limited by the immediate interests of levy payers.
Because the New Zealand government has not made a space to monitor and analyse, explore and critique (short term funding has scientists by the short and curlies) - scientsts are unlikely to stray into politically problematic environs.
So we’ve been slow to understand this problem. New Zealand’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has done some incredible work to help us understand how terribly bad the state of environmental monitoring really is in New Zealand and what can be done about it.
The head of the NZEPA could be calling for environmental reports on chemicals in soil and water as feedback loops to knowledge in the so-called Authority responsible for protecting our environment. The head of the NZEPA could have called for the NZEPA sub-committee to convene to deliberate as to whether there is sufficient ‘new information’ to produce grounds for reassessment. The head of the NZEPA could be demanding that all Regional Councils publish annual reports on pesticides in source water that is used for drinking water. The head of the NZEPA could be calling for pesticides to be regulated as a class - as is done in Europe, where active pesticide ingredients, their metabolites and reaction products do not exceed 0.1 µg/l (a total of 0.5 µg/l for all pesticides measured) see p372/26 of the Groundwater Directive. This might help raise attention to the dangerously silly mixtures of herbicides being used to combat resistance - and the failure to bring in (or … develop) robotics in place of toxic herbicides.
Maybe it is a bit hard, when you used to work for PGG Wrightson.