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Report of the People’s Inquiry released

MEDIA RELEASE

November 11th - for Immediate Release

Report of the People’s Inquiry released

Findings have significant political implications

The long-awaited Report of the March 2006 People's Inquiry into the impacts and effects of the two and a half years of aerial spraying pesticide over urban areas of Auckland has finally been released.

The Commissioners findings published today are substantial and have significant political implications.

Hana Blackmore, Convenor of the People’s Inquiry Steering Committee said today that implementation of the wealth of practical recommendations in the Report should lead to a real change in the way biosecurity incursions responses are conducted in this country, and the way in which people impacted by these programmes are treated.

The Commissioners’ Report is comprehensive, thoroughly detailed and hugely welcome she said.

“For the first time the impact of a major eradication campaign has been examined from the perspective of the community. The people of Auckland and Waitakere City in particular, have borne the brunt of an unprecedented campaign to eradicate a pest that supposedly threatened not their health, but national economic interests.”

“They became in essence the human collateral of an eradication campaign in which current biosecurity legislation does not even recognise let alone compensate people for any impacts on their health and livelihoods” said Blackmore.

The Report doubts that any community will have confidence in MAF to properly consider health impacts when primary production sector interests are at stake, and recommends a number of strong changes in the Biosecurity Act to cover compensation, protection of human rights and public health.

The groundbreaking Inquiry held in Waitakere City, was the first of this scope and nature held anywhere in the world, having been commissioned and set up by the community themselves.

Hearings were held in late March 2006 and the Commissioners heard testimony from over 70 people during the five days of hearings.

The recognition in the Report of the adverse social, economic and health impacts of the aerial spraying and the failure on many levels to meet basic ethical and human rights standards were not the only positive outcomes for the community said Hana Blackmore.

“The simple acknowledgment that the people have finally been heard and their experiences recognised has been a huge relief and a tremendous boost to their spirits” she said.

After the presentation of the Report to the community on Friday at a celebratory evening hosted by Waitakere City Council Hana acknowledged that the real hard work of the Committee will now begin.

“We cannot thank the Commissioners enough for their commitment and dedication over the last eighteen months to bring this Report to publication. Now we have to follow through and ensure their recommendations are implemented” she said “this journey is just beginning”.


Report of the March 2006 People’s Inquiry into the Impacts and Effects of Aerial Spraying Pesticide over Urban Areas of Auckland. October 2007

Executive summary

The majority of testimony had one major theme in common: the way in which members of the community were treated when they sought assistance in dealing with the effects of the spray. Based on the testimony we received, it is our opinion that: there was extensive disruption of some people’s work, education, family and social lives caused by their need to avoid the spray; there were significant deficiencies in the health support service; and many affected community members struggled to access medical assistance and practical support to cope with the effects of the spray programme.

Based on the evidence presented to us, it is our opinion that: MAF did not take up the opportunity to build upon the experience of 1996/97 White-Spotted Tussock Moth programme regarding relations with the community; and that MAF did not permit the Community Advisory Group to represent community interests in any meaningful way.

Based on the testimony we have related in the report, it is our view that: unsubstantiated claims about the threat represented by the PAM may have damaged the credibility of Biosecurity New Zealand; and that the impact on the community of the spray programme was exacerbated by inadequate provision of information, particularly with regard to particular spray operations and the pesticide aerially sprayed, Foray48B. For many of those whose health was affected by the spray, not being able to find out what they were being exposed to understandably provoked anxiety and anger.

Testimony strongly indicated not only that the authorities’ lack of acknowledgment of the affected community’s experience itself had a considerable impact on people, but also that the treatment received by many who sought assistance generated hurt, anger, mistrust and alienation that has outlasted the PAM programme and can be expected to influence residents’ orientation toward “the national interest” in the future.

In our view it is inappropriate that an agency (MAF) primarily committed to the protection of primary production and trade should have responsibility for managing the human-health impacts of an incursion response. In our view, it is doubtful that any community expected to bear the health risks of an incursion response will have confidence in MAF to properly consider health impacts when primary-production sector interests are at stake.

Health studies that, in our view, should have been carried out prior to, during, and after the spray programme, were not carried out. The Health Risk Assessment that was carried out was based on assumptions that differed significantly from the actual conditions of the spray programme.

Based on the testimony we heard it is our view that the protection of what should be independent research from political interference is insufficiently robust.

The Biosecurity Act is insufficiently protective of public health and should be amended.

It must be recognised that many biosecurity decisions are not technical in nature, but fundamentally political. They concern whose interests will be protected and to what degree, who will pay the cost of that protection, and who will bear the risks. It cannot and should not be expected that biosecurity authorities’answers to these questions will simply be accepted by the public at large as being in “the national interest.” The process of answering these questions, of setting priorities and making decisions, must be transparent, and must take into account a wider range of interests, views and knowledge than was the case in the PAM programme. There must, therefore, be genuine opportunities for potentially affected communities to be involved in biosecurity planning and decision-making.

Part Two: Upon reviewing the available evidence, Dr Romeo Quijano concludes that the aerial spraying of Foray 48B resulted in adverse health effects on the people exposed to the spraying. He notes: When an a priori belief (the spray is “safe;”it does not make people sick) comes up against a contradictory empirical claim (this spray is making me sick), the empirical claim deserves to be given more epistemological weight than the a priori belief.

Part Three: Having examined the evidence in the light of relevant national and international human rights instruments and conventions, Dr Tom Kerns concludes that in the prosecution of the PAM aerial spray programme, the evidence shows a number of human rights standards were not met and that the New Zealand government failed to meet the basic responsibility of a government to protect its citizens from physical harm. As a result of these failures, actions knowingly undertaken by agents of the government resulted in the infliction of serious physical, social and economic injury on a significant number of West Auckland citizens.


Recommendations

Recommendations from Part 1:

R1. The government should issue a formal apology to the affected community for the impacts of the PAM spray programme on people’s health, employment and education and for the inadequate support provided to those affected.

R2. The government should establish a compensation fund, to be administered by a third party acceptable to representatives of the affected community, to reimburse major expenses and losses incurred by the affected community as a result of the PAM programme. The fund should be financed by central government and the forestry industry.

R3. The data collected by the Aeraqua PAM Health Service should not be assumed to be a reliable measure of the health impacts of the PAM programme and should not form part of the evidence base for any future health risk assessments of Foray48B or similar products.

R4 Whenever and wherever an incursion or an incursion response has the potential to affect a community, the community or its representatives should be, from the initial stages, actively involved in the analysis of the situation, decision-making as to the response, and planning of any response.

R5. The Health Select Committee and the Primary Production Select Committee should review the decision processes and priorities that led to a decision to spray a residential area with a pesticide in order, in part, to spare the forestry industry the costs of spraying their forests with that pesticide.

R6. The acceptability of agreements that result in the involuntary exposure of people to a product whose ingredients cannot be revealed to them should be reviewed by the Human Rights Commission and by the Health and the Justice and Electoral Select Committees.

R7. The Official Information Act should be amended to prevent the charging of fees that block access to information for those without extensive financial resources.

R8. The recommendations made by the reviewer of the Blackmore (2003) health monitoring interim report should be acted upon.

R9. All those involved in assessing the risks of incursions and incursion responses should be required to understand, consider and acknowledge the limitations of conventional risk-assessment methods.

R10. Assessment of and advice on health impacts of incursions and incursion responses should not be sought from those having financial or reputational interests, or the appearance of such interests, in the outcome of the assessment.

R11. All health-related aspects of biosecurity, including the health impacts of future incursion responses and research on those impacts, should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. They should be neither funded by nor delegated to MAF or Biosecurity New Zealand.

R12. Sections 7 and 114 of the Biosecurity Act should be reviewed by the Health Select Committee, the Primary Production Select Committee and/or the Local Government and Environment Select Committee, which should consider the proposed amendments contained in Submission 34, Appendix A, to limit the powers currently granted to the “chief technical officer” and the Minister of Biosecurity, in view of the fact that actions taken to protect the primary production sector from pest incursions have the potential to impact adversely on human health and the environment.

R13. Should it be necessary in the future to expose a population to a potentially harmful substance in the interests of biosecurity, independent research must be funded and undertaken to: 1/ establish baseline levels and patterns of health and illness; 2/ determine actual exposures experienced by members of the community in a variety of relevant circumstances; and 3/ carry out follow-up studies of exposed populations.

R14. The attribution of health effects reported by the community to psychosomatic processes should be given no credence in future risk assessments unless and until such a diagnosis can be supported with empirical, medical evidence.

R15. Symptoms should not be dismissed as psychosomatic simply because their nature and pattern does not fit what the assessor expected based on past risk assessments, particularly where the level of exposure is unusual (e.g., long-term, repeated exposure of an urban population to Foray48B).

R16. All requests for publicly funded research should be publicly notified and open to all bidders.

R17. The process of awarding public research funds should be transparent.

R18. The State Services Commission should develop processes and prohibitions adequate 1/ to ensure that publicly funded research that produces results inconvenient to government agencies is neither interfered with nor kept from the public; and 2/ to protect researchers who produce results at odds with the interests of the government or its agencies from denial of opportunities to obtain public research funding and interference with other legitimate research and business activity of the researcher.

R19. The research recommended by the Wellington School of Medicine Report (Hales et al. 2004) should be carried out, if this is still technically feasible.

R20. Section 162 of the Biosecurity Act should be amended to account for the impacts of biosecurity programmes on urban populations, including changes to the provisions for compensation to recognise the full array of harms that can be inflicted by biosecurity measures.

R21. The Biosecurity Act should be reviewed by the Human Rights Commissioner and the Justice and Electoral Select Committee in order to ascertain whether it is compatible with an acceptable level of protection of the rights of New Zealanders.

R22. The shortcomings of conventional risk-assessment methods in relation to health and environmental impacts should be acknowledged and efforts made to develop and implement methods that are better able to consider these impacts.

R23. Biosecurity decision-making should be recognised as being political rather than solely technical, in the sense that it involves decisions regarding whose interests will be protected and to what degree, who will pay the cost of that protection, and who will bear the risks. Biosecurity decision processes should thus be made transparent to the public and should take into account a wider range of interests, views and knowledge than has been the case until now

Recommendations from Part 3 (by Dr Tom Kerns):

R24 All ingredients in any pesticide formulation that will be deployed in or near any vicinity where human beings are likely to be exposed to direct spray, or spray drift or spray residues should be fully and publicly disclosed. If full disclosure is not possible, then the pesticide should not be deployed in any location where humans will be exposed. “Fully disclose or don’t expose” should be a key operating principle in MAF’s pesticide policy. The Ministry of Health, whose primary responsibility is to the health of New Zealand citizens, has an even stricter duty than MAF to insist on full disclosure.

R25: The government should make Foray 48B labels (indeed all pesticide labels) readily available to the public. The public has a right to know 1/ precisely what is on the pesticide’s label; 2/ whether the New Zealand label for Foray 48B is less restrictive and cautionary than labels for the same product in other countries; 3/ if it is less restrictive, why it is so and how it did it come to be so; and 4/ how pesticide labeling is determined, and what negotiations about labeling, if any, occur between the New Zealand government and a pesticide’s manufacturer.

R26: In keeping with the mandates of recently legislated new “primary functions” for the Human Rights Commission (under the Human Rights Amendment Act 2001)

- to advocate and promote respect for and appreciation of human rights in New Zealand society...

- to advocate and promote, by education and publicity, respect for, and observance of, human rights;

- to make public statements promoting an understanding of, and compliance with, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990; …

- to promote, by research, education and discussion, a better understanding of the human rights dimensions of the Treaty of Waitangi and their relationship with domestic and international human rights law

the Human Rights Commission should establish a procedure for hearing PAM-related complaints publicly and should disseminate their concerns widely. It should work with the Waitangi Tribunal to explore possible violations of the spirit, intent and letter of the Treaty of Waitangi.

R27: The government should make public assurances to the community that what happened in West Auckland will not happen again anywhere in New Zealand. In support of those assurances it should take action to reform the Biosecurity Act as outlined in R12, R20 and R21 above

ENDS

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