The pesticide endosulfan, already banned in 55 countries including all the European Union countries, was banned in New Zealand in January 2009.
Endosulphan is an insecticide which was 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.
The coalition of groups that have long campaigned for the banning of the controversial pesticide endosulfan said they were extremely pleased the pesticide has finally been banned. Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand (PAN ANZ), Soil and Health Association and Safe Food Campaign urged ERMA for many years to place a ban on the use of endosulfan.
Earlier proposal to keep endosulphan overturned
"We are delighted that ERMA has overturned its earlier ‘proposed’ decision to keep using this pesticide" said Dr Meriel Watts, Co-ordinator of the Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand at the time of the announcement to ban endosulfan.
"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."
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.
Toxic, persistent and cumulative
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 was undertaking a rigorous assessment prior to listing it for a global ban, alongside DDT and its other persistent organochlorine relatives.
Residue in body fat, breast milk
Alison White of the Safe Food Campaign said 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 said. 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.
SFC, Soil and Health and PAN ANZ carried out a number of residue tests on produce in 2008 to draw attention to the extent of endosulfan residues, especially in tomatoes.
Residues in NZ and Australian 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,” she said.
Forestry versus ozone layer
“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 Mr Browning said.
While pleased that ERMA has a programme of reassessment, it would take at least another five years for just the 20 worst pesticides to be looked at, he said.
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, he said.
Organic foods produced without such pesticides are the fastest growing sector of the food and beverage trade internationally.