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Health effects of spraying carefully considered

Health effects of spraying carefully considered

MAF engaged widely with people living in the West Auckland and Hamilton spraying areas

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"Biosecurity is just as much about health and community outcomes as it is about economic and environmental matters, and this was always an important consideration during the moth eradication operations carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF)," Biosecurity Minister Jim Anderton said today, responding to the report of the Ombudsman's Office investigation into the programme.

"For that reason, the eradication decisions were informed by independent health risk assessments, on-going health monitoring, and the full involvement of the Ministry of Health and the local district health boards. The Cabinet was well appraised of the impacts of the spraying programme on the affected community and received extensive scientific and medical advice."

In conducting his inquiry the Ombudsman acknowledged that he was not privy to the Cabinet's discussions and is not in any way questioning the Government's decision to proceed with the spraying programme.

"A small number of people were mildly affected by the spraying. A number of these were relocated during the spraying; received any necessary medical attention; and were monitored. This is not well-acknowledged by the Ombudsman," Jim Anderton said.

"Efforts by the Government to publicly disclose the contents of the spray formula were blocked by the manufacturer, another fact overlooked by the Ombudsman. The manufacturer did agree to disclosing the formula to all the health authorities involved as well as an independent toxicologist, and the contents were carefully scrutinised."

"MAF engaged widely with people living in the West Auckland and Hamilton spraying areas, and the programmes attracted a high level of community support. That overwhelming support for the moth eradication programmes has been downplayed by people opposed to spraying. However, I accept that in trying to assure the community of the safety of the programme Government agencies may have generated a grievance for people who felt their genuine health issues were not being adequately acknowledged."

"The Ombudsman's Office investigation also overlooks the fact that the successful eradication of painted apple moth in West Auckland and Asian gypsy moth in Hamilton provided significant benefits to New Zealand."

The economic impact of painted apple moth alone establishing in New Zealand was estimated at between $58 and $356 million over twenty years.

"The moths posed a serious threat to New Zealand's forests, including the iconic Waitakere ranges, horticulture crops as well as human health," Jim Anderton said.

Aerial spraying on this scale was a first for New Zealand. "It's not something we would resort to lightly. We recognise the costs, stresses and disruptions associated with such programmes and we will certainly assess and work to improve such programmes. We are now better prepared for such events," Jim Anderton said. "But when we are facing serious biosecurity incursions, New Zealand's interests overall will best be served by retaining tools like Foray 48B for use when the need arises."

Questions & Answers

What threat did the moths pose to New Zealand?

Painted apple moth (found in Auckland in May 1999)
Painted apple moth poses a risk to New Zealand's indigenous and plantation forests, horticulture crops and amenity plantings.

The economic impact of painted apple moth establishing in New Zealand was estimated at between $58 and $356 million over twenty years, with additional but unquantified damage to native flora.

Asian gypsy moth (found in Hamilton, March 2003)
Asian gypsy moths are considered internationally to be one of the most serious of all forest insect pests, causing widespread damage and severe economic impacts in the Northern Hemisphere.

An economic impact assessment conservatively estimated potential impacts in New Zealand of between $5 million and $400 million over 50 years. Additional, but unquantified, impacts were identified on urban amenity values, indigenous species, human health, and riparian, erosion control and shelter plantings.

Were options other than aerial spraying considered?

Yes. In the case of the painted apple moth incursion, MAF was able to eradicate a population in Mt Wellington using ground-based spraying and host plant removal. A western Auckland population, however, persisted and expanded, resulting in a need for aerial as well as ground spraying. Spray operations were supported by removal of host vegetation, vegetation movement restrictions, communications with the public, and research.


What was MAF's role in the eradication responses?

MAF led the gypsy moth and painted apple moth eradication programmes, drawing on expertise and advice from across government as required. Involvement from other government agencies resulted in whole-of-government advice to Ministers on priorities and strategies, and operations that struck a balance between meeting eradication objectives and protecting public health and safety.

Did the Ministry of Health devolve its responsibilities to MAF?

No. MAF was the appropriate agency to lead these programmes. It worked closely with the Ministry of Health and local District Health Boards.

MAF is not just tasked with managing biosecurity risks to agriculture and forestry - it is also concerned about people and their environments. This is reflected in the 2003 Biosecurity Strategy for New Zealand, which emphasised the need for biosecurity to contribute to the full range of economic, social, health and environmental outcomes. It is also reflected in MAF's Statement of Intent, which sets the economy, people and the environment as the core outcomes to which the Ministry contributes.

What information and advice was provided to Ministers about the moth responses?

The decisions to carry out aerial operations over urban communities were not taken lightly. They followed lengthy study, consultation and rigorous analysis of the benefits and risks from a whole-of-government perspective.

Ministers received advice on the moth eradication programmes via written briefings, Cabinet papers, and discussions with senior officials from a range of government agencies. During the course of all the programmes Ministers received regular updates and, during the longer painted apple moth programme, Cabinet was asked to reconfirm its decisions to pursue eradication on several occasions. Officials' advice was in all cases informed by expert medical, scientific and legal opinion.

Other relevant government departments, in particular the Ministry of Health, were consulted on all Cabinet papers to ensure that Ministers received sound, comprehensive and coordinated policy advice.

Were the risks to people properly considered?

Public health and safety were key considerations for officials and Ministers throughout all of the moth eradication programmes. Independent and peer-reviewed health risk assessments were carried out prior to each programme, and health surveillance was undertaken during operations to identify any unexpected health impacts.

Officials and Ministers have received consistent and compelling advice from medical specialists for more than 10 years that aerial operations using Foray 48B pose no significant risk to human health, but that some individuals exposed to the spray may experience short-term effects.

In 2006 the Public Health Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Health concluded that:

"there is little or no discernable epidemiological evidence of any ill-health effect to the public from exposure to the aerial spraying of Foray 48B.This is not to say that no ill-health effects have been reported. In all of the exposed communities surveyed a very small group of people have reported health effects that they attribute to the spray, and these effects are similar across studies. Typically, the effects can be categorised as minor irritations or allergic reactions involving the upper respiratory system, skin and/or eyes, and feelings of anxiety and frustration about being exposed to the spray".

Why did a significant number of people require medical attention and removal from the spray zone?

Independent and peer reviewed health risk assessments were carried out prior to each programme. They advised consistently that aerial operations using Foray 48B pose no significant risk to human health, but that some individuals might experience minor skin, eye and upper respiratory tract irritation or aggravation of existing asthma or allergies.

To manage risks to these individuals the Government provided a free Health Service. This Health Service could be contacted via a well publicised 0800 number, and provided access to medical specialists and, where necessary, financial assistance for people to leave the area on spray days. Less than 0.5 percent of people in the west Auckland and Hamilton spray zones found it necessary to leave the spray zone on spray days.

Was insufficient attention paid to the social impact of these operations?

It was recognised early that public understanding and support for the programmes would be critical to their success. Communication initiatives included media releases and briefings, media interviews, an interactive 0800 number, web site information, wide distribution of the health risk assessments and operational information, television and radio advertising, public meetings, and one-off presentations to key interest groups. A particular effort was made to communicate with schools and early childhood education centres.

What was MAF's response to community feedback?

MAF listened to community concerns and made changes as a result of community feedback. In particular, changes were made to the timing of aerial operations so that disruption to the community was minimised. Where it could be avoided applications were not carried out on weekends or public holidays, or while children were on their way to school.

MAF also responded by providing the west Auckland and Hamilton communities with a free Health Service. The Health Service could be contacted via a well publicised 0800 number, and provided advice and practical support to people with concerns.

What was the level of community support for the eradication programmes?

High. MAF carried out regular phone surveys to keep up to date with the communities' response to the programmes. The surveys showed that, although some residents had concerns and some were strongly opposed, the vast majority of people supported the programmes objectives and the way MAF carried them out.

What reimbursement is available to people affected by the spraying?

During the eradication programmes, the Government provided a Health Service free of charge to inform and support the local community. It also provided, where necessary, financial assistance for people to leave the area on spray days.

That service was wound up at the end of the programmes.

Did MAF adequately advise Ministers on the implications of moving from targeted painted apple moth operations to widespread aerial spraying?

Yes. This was a major decision and the depth of analysis and consultation between agencies leading up to that decision was extensive, as was the level of engagement with the Prime Minister and Cabinet on the decision itself.

The Cabinet was very concerned about the potential impacts of painted apple moth on the Waitakeres in particular. It had to consider the cost of the expanded programme, the probabilities of success, and the associated public health and other safety issues. The Cabinet's judgement was that eradication provided the best overall outcome for New Zealand.

It is relevant to note that in approving the eradication programme, Cabinet also funded a Health Monitoring and Support Programme to the tune of $20 million over five years, and provided an additional $8 million for public communication and information. This indicates a very high level of commitment to public welfare.

What was the "unsatisfactory situation" in Hamilton"?

MAF was in a difficult position regarding public communications during the protracted period between when the Asian gypsy moth was detected in 2003 and when the Cabinet decided to proceed with an eradication programme.

It could not engage with the community on the implications of aerial operations in any detail until after the Cabinet decision had been made. During this period a vigorous campaign of misinformation commenced, to which MAF could not respond.

Once the Cabinet decision was made, MAF moved to inform the community. It took some time to build community trust, but this was largely achieved by the end of the programme. A survey of Hamilton residents was carried out in August 2003 soon after completion of Asian gypsy moth aerial operations. The survey showed overwhelming support for the eradication programme when considered against the potential environmental and economic damage from the moth.

Why did MAF not use information gathered during the white-spotted tussock moth programme?

It did. The tussock moth eradication programme was managed by the former Ministry of Forestry, but transitioned to MAF as a result of the Ministry of Forestry and the Ministry of Agriculture merger. The critical documents and experience were not lost.

Tussock moth reports were extensively cited in the painted apple moth and Asian gypsy moth health risk assessment other documents.

Why did MAF's position on eradication of painted apple moth change after the 2002 election?

When MAF prepared its advice for Cabinet just prior to the general election in 2002 it recommended against pursuing eradication, favouring instead an option of long-term management. This reflected its analysis at the time that moving to widespread aerial operations was a high-cost option, with only a moderate probability of success. It was also concerned at the safety of an operation involving low flying aircraft over a large urban area, as well as whether it had the capability and capacity to manage such a major project.

Following the General Election MAF had carried out further analysis on the implications of the eradication option and its alternatives, and had become more confident in its ability to manage a large scale eradication project. It was clear that there were few real alternatives to eradication - no tools for long-term management of the moth existed. The cost benefit analysis was positive for the eradication option, the Ministry of Health and Auckland District Health Board had identified no significant health risks, and operational safety issues had been largely resolved with the Civil Aviation Authority. MAF's judgement was that, although uncertainties remained, eradication was the best option. The Cabinet agreed, and with hindsight this has proved the right decision. MAF ran a very successful eradication programme, declaring painted apple moth eradicated from New Zealand in June 2006.

Was the experimental use of Foray 48B a breach of the Bill of Rights Act?

No. The High Court has confirmed that the spraying of Foray 48B was not an experiment for the purposes of the Bill of Rights Act.

The Ombudsman has unfortunately drawn an incorrect link between the use of Foray 48B under an "experimental use permit" issued under the Pesticides Act 1979, and the provisions in the Bill of Rights Act relating to people's rights not to be subjected to medical or scientific experimentation.

The now repealed Pesticides Act allowed for an experimental use permit to be granted for evaluating a registered pesticide for a use not specified on the approved label. When tussock moth was detected in 1996, Foray 48B was fully registered for aerial spraying of Asian gypsy moth, but not for tussock moth. Accordingly an experimental use permit was issued to gain the necessary field data on efficacy against tussock moth. Foray 48B was fully registered for aerial use against tussock moth in December 1997.

No aspects of the Pesticides Act experimental use permit related to experimentation on the human population. The word "experimental" in this context related only to the tussock moth.

Why did the Government exempt the eradication programmes from the Resource Management Act?

Section 7A of the Biosecurity Act provides a lawful avenue for exempting biosecurity programmes from the Resource Management Act in certain circumstances.

The use of section 7A of the Biosecurity Act for the moth eradication programmes is entirely consistent with what Parliament intended when it made this provision. The decisions required were nationally significant, and in the view of Cabinet were better made by Ministers than local government politicians or the Environment Court.

Will the Government now disclose the full ingredients of Foray 48B to the public?

No, it is unable to do so.

The formulation of Foray 48B is highly confidential and the supplier of the product is not willing to have the details disclosed. The suppliers consider product formulations to be a trade secret and the basis of their commercial success globally. Release of product ingredients would jeopardise New Zealand's access to this and other pest management products in the future.

However, MAF and the supplier do recognise there is strong public interest in the formulation of Foray 48B. The full list of ingredients has been made available to relevant regulatory agencies as well as to several other government agencies and key decision makers. These included the Environmental Risk Management Authority, New Zealand Food Safety Authority, Ministry of Health, Auckland District Health Board, the Director of the PAM Health Service and the Minister and Associate Minister for Biosecurity. General information on the ingredients has also been communicated widely to the public.

Will the Government establish a Community Liaison Group for future operations like this?

Yes. The Government considers it is very important to involve communities in matters that affect them

Will the Government commission further research into the relationship between human health and the frequency, duration and intensity of spray operations?

The Government will seek advice from the Ministry of Health on what, if any, further research is necessary in relation to aerial operations using Foray 48B.

What was the Wellington School of Medicine report about?

The Ministry of Health asked researchers at the Wellington School of Medicine, to
report on the health concerns, symptoms and effects associated with the aerial spraying programme.

The report was released in 2004 and can be found on the Ministry of Health website.

Why was Hamilton sprayed when only one gypsy moth was found?

MAF's Technical Advisory Group (TAG), which included international experts, considered the issue of whether a gypsy moth population existed in Hamilton in great detail.

The TAG noted that, although no further moths or other life stages were found, a population might exist but be too small to detect. It was also concerned that the short moth flight season might have ended before an intensive trapping programme could be deployed following the detection of the first moth. Its advice was that a self sustaining population of gypsy moths probably did exist in Hamilton.

The difficulty we faced was that if there was a population, and if it was not eradicated immediately, the strong flying female gypsy moths would have dispersed too far by the time they were detected to enable an eradication attempt.


ENDS

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