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Ombudsman Slates Ministry of Health over spray

MEDIA RELEASE

Ombudsman Slates Ministry of Health for failing to protect people from aerial spray

In a Report released by the Office of the Ombudsmen late last week, Ombudsman, Mel Smith states unequivocally that the aerial spray used in the Auckland and Hamilton pest incursions has not been proven “safe”, contrary to Government assurances about its safety to the affected populations.

In her statement on the release of the Report, Jane Schaverien the initiating complainant, said that Mr Smith’s Report vindicates the claims of the communities affected by aerial spraying with Foray 48B.

“Mr Smith is in no doubt that people suffered harm from the spray. He states that: in the event of future spraying of human populations with pesticide the spraying agency must provide full and accurate information …about the contents of the spray. It should also unequivocally acknowledge that there may be harm caused to some people residing or present within the spray zone.”

“This report has taken four and a half years to complete” says Ms Schaverien and notes that the findings and recommendations from the Office of the Ombudsmen are not easily ignored by the Government. “They will be pursued by the Office of the Ombudsmen under S22 of the Ombudsmen Act to ensure they are implemented.”

Ms Schaverien said that the Government will not find it as easy to discount the Ombudsman’s Report as they did the findings of the recently published Report of the People’s Inquiry into the same eradication campaign.

The Ombudsman cannot possibly be accused of bias, says Ms Schaverien and his Report substantially confirms the same conclusions reached by the People’s Inquiry. She hopes that both reports will now be read and acted upon with the degree of urgency the Ombudsman expects.

(see Statement and Ombudsman recommendations below)

========

Statement of Ms Jane Schaverien on the:

Report of the Opinion of Ombudsman Mel Smith

On complaints Arising from Aerial Spraying of the Biological Insecticide Foray 48B on the Population of Parts of Auckland and Hamilton to Destroy Incursions of Painted Apple Moths, and Asian Gypsy Moths, Respectively During 2002 – 2004.

Ombudsman Mel Smith states unequivocally in his report that the spray Foray 48B (the spray used in Auckland and Hamilton against biosecurity incursions in 1996 and 2002-2004) has not been proven “safe” contrary to MAF, Ministry of Health, Cabinet, and backbenchers’ assurances to the affected populations.

Mr Smith is in no doubt that people suffered harm from the spray. He states that: [In the event of future spraying of human populations with pesticide] “the spraying agency must provide full and accurate information …about the contents of the spray. It should also unequivocally acknowledge that there may be harm caused to some people residing or present within the spray zone.” Mr Smith’s report vindicates the claims of the communities affected by aerial spraying with Foray 48B and of their spokespeople.

Findings and recommendations from the Office of the Ombudsmen are not easily ignored by governments. They will be pursued by the Office of the Ombudsmen under S22 of the Ombudsmen Act to ensure they are implemented.

The key recommendations of this report, which should be implemented, are as follows:

1. Development of a fast track process for the Environment Court to ensure that in the event of a biosecurity incursion for which aerial spraying may be the preferred response, the needs of people and the views of the community, cannot be ignored or sidelined. Amendments to the relevant legislation are, Mr Smith says, to be implemented “as a matter of urgency”.

2. The Ministry of Health must not abdicate its responsibility under the Health Act 1956, allowing another government department to take responsibility for human health, as it did when allowing MAF to look after the health affects resulting from aerial spraying in Auckland and Hamilton. Mr Smith is critical of this type of interdepartmental arrangement. He recommends the appointment by the Ministry of Health of a senior official whose task it will be to look critically at all relevant human health implications, and to be prepared to express an independent viewpoint where there appears to be a conflict between the spray operation and the human health of those who may be affected.

3. Priority is to be given to appropriate research to establish the effects of aerial spraying with Foray 48B on human populations. This research may include the suggestions made by Simon Hales et al, in 2004, in the Wellington School of Medicine Assessment of Potential Health Impacts of Spraying for Painted Apple Moth in Auckland. Mr Smith illuminates, in his report, the lengths to which the Ministry of Health went to suppress this research when it indicated that the spray causes harm and that there is a need for further research to determine the extent and way in which that harm is caused.

4. “That the fullest information about the spray [Foray 48B] and its possible effects should be made available.” Mr Smith does not look benevolently on the government’s entry into an agreement with the manufacturer of the spray to keep the ingredients of the pesticide secret from people who may be affected by it.

It is hoped that future governments will refuse to enter into such agreements.

The report has taken four and a half years to complete. The delay is explained by Mr Smith as in large part due to his protracted negotiations with the US manufacturer of Foray 48B to permit the disclosure of the ingredients of the spray to an independent expert. Mr Smith considered this disclosure necessary to his investigation into the human health affects of the spray.

The report concurs with the findings of the Report of the People’s Inquiry recently published, but discounted by Minister for Biosecurity Jim Anderton and the Prime Minister in interviews following its publication. They will not be able to discount the Ombudsman’s finding so simply. The Minister for Biosecurity is expected under S22 of the Ombudsmen’s Act to implement Mr Smith’s recommendations. Likewise the Ministry of Health has work to do. The Office of the Ombudsmen will be monitoring their progress.


ENDS

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