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Inaccurate Journalism Damaging To NZ Economy

The editor and publisher of Healthy Options magazine owe the people of New Zealand an apology for their scare-mongering, Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton said today.

The magazine published an article in this month's issue alleging that fertiliser contaminated by nuclear tests on Christmas Island was being spread on Waikato farms, endangering people's health on shipping wharves and on farms, as well as that of consumers.

In fact, the magazine had confused Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, where phosphates used in fertilisers are mined, with Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean, where nuclear tests were carried out in the 1950s. The islands are thousands of kilometres away from each other.

As well, the article quotes laboratory tests, which officials said were alarming.

These tests were done on the understanding that the samples being tested were soil samples. They were fertiliser samples, so the higher readings were not as alarming as they appeared.

Uranium, a natural element present in the environment, occurs about 1.1 to 2.3 parts per million in New Zealand soil naturally.

It is present in superphosphate (around 40 parts per million) and in naturally reactive rock phosphate (between 15 to 148 parts per million) used in many higher rainfall areas and on organic farms.

Given typical annual fertiliser application rates and assuming a level of 45 parts of uranium per million, it would take 50 years of fertiliser application to arable farms to accumulate 0.6 parts per million of uranium. It would take 325 years to accumulate the same amount on dairy farms.

While uranium and phosphate fertiliser will add to the natural level of uranium in the soil, in New Zealand it will take nearly 1000 years to double uranium levels. Even then, New Zealand soils would have the same rating as United States soils do now.

There is no threat to food safety from any approved fertiliser used in New Zealand.

Mr Sutton said New Zealand had not always been as clean and green as would ideally be the case, but the government and farmers had worked hard and were continuing to work hard to ensure sustainable practices were used.

"Farmers, like other right-minded New Zealanders, want to leave this country in good shape for their children and grandchildren.

"Journalism such as this, with basic errors, does New Zealand a disservice and gives those who wish to block our agricultural products in international markets an excuse. Healthy Options owes farmers, fertiliser companies, and New Zealand an apology."

Ends

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