A measured approach to new age crop protection

10 Aug 2018

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There are many bugs and diseases that attack plants, animals and humans. To manage and fight off these attacks a range of compounds are used, many of them with a chemical base. In the primary industries we have seen the damage introduced bugs and diseases can do with Psa in kiwifruit and Mycoplasma bovis in cattle. To control and manage these attacks on our plants and animals chemical compounds are used, and in the case of Psa are still being used. Our ultimate goal is to use as few chemicals as possible, to use them in a very targeted way and, where we can, to use nature’s own products to manage pests and diseases.

Moving away from chemical compounds is certainly the trend in Europe, one of our big export markets for produce. In Europe, the pressure for more rapid change from chemical compounds is coming from consumers. They want healthy products that are chemical free. And that is what the New Zealand fresh fruit and vegetable industry is working to deliver.

There are two challenges that present themselves to the chemical-free future. The first challenge is finding and developing biological products that can effectively replace chemical compounds. The second is getting those biologicals approved for use in New Zealand. If we cannot effectively replace the chemical compounds growers are currently using and if these compounds are withdrawn from use, then growers will loss the battle to manage pests and diseases, and crop productivity and quality will reduce.

New Zealand relies on effective and free flowing trade for our economic survival. The tightening of trade conditions, some of which is coming about as a result of some of the policies of American President Donald Trump, could well have a disastrous effect on New Zealand’s exports and financial prosperity. As trade conditions tighten so do the regulatory processes and approvals that permit our fruit and vegetables to enter other countries. In Europe, the worrying trend is that decisions about what chemical compounds can be used are now, more than ever before, subject to political decision-making based on gaining votes, rather than on good science. These trade barriers, threats to the protection of intellectual property, hazard-based assessments of chemical compounds, and political change are all causing regulatory uncertainty.

Recently adopted European Union standards on endocrine disruptors for example have resulted in complaints to the World Trade Organization from trading partners such as Canada, Australia and the United States. The standards are deficient due to being based on hazards - without considering exposure – ignoring the principal of sound risk assessment. As a result of hazard-based assessments, more substances could be banned, leading to trade restrictions. New Zealand's fresh produce exported into Europe will therefore, come under greater scrutiny.

We need to respond to the changes being required by consumers. So we must as a country move to address the twin challenges of developing more biological-based compounds for managing pest and diseases, and make sure that we can get these new age compounds approved for use in New Zealand. This needs to be done in a balanced and measured way by progressively replacing the compounds we are using, only when we have new compounds that are as effective as the old ones, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable.

- Mike Chapman, CEO