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Ensuring Sustainable Growth: Streamlining Crop Protection Approvals for New Zealand’s Horticulture Sector

01 July 2024, NZ: Opinion editorial: Michelle Sands, general manager strategy and policy

New Zealand’s growers are facing a raft of new challenges as climate change brings dry conditions warmer temperatures, more storms and increased outbreaks of pests and diseases.

This means it is essential that the horticulture sector, which is vital to the economy and critical to domestic food security, has the right tools to continue to operate effectively and sustainably. It also needs the right policy settings in place to support approvals of crop protection products.

Registration of new crop protection products and new modes of action (including softer chemistry) is key to providing growers with the ability and confidence to invest in and succeed in the sector.  

Currently, product approval takes a long time, is very costly and there is a significant backlog of applications stuck in the regulatory process for new actives designed to control pests and diseases in the most sustainable ways.  

HortNZ is concerned that the approach the EPA is taking to registrations and reassessments threatens to leave the sector with fewer options to manage risks, in an increasingly risky environment.

The Principles in the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act requires the EPA to recognise and provide for safeguarding the life supporting capacity of air, water, soil and ecosystems as well as recognise and provide for the maintenance and enhancement of the capacity of people and communities to provide for their own economic, social, and cultural well-being and for the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations.

It is essential that the EPA give weight to both of these elements in both the way the EPA is resourcing its workload, and in the way it is analysing effects.

HortNZ advocates for sensible regulatory settings that manage risks whilst acknowledging the vital importance and benefits of crop protection products to growers in production of their crops.

The sector absolutely supports the need to ensure that any agrichemicals and biological tools approved for use in New Zealand have been rigorously tested, through a trusted process. HortNZ would, however, like the process for registration to be more efficient.

Given the complexities of resource and funding constraints, the EPA has acknowledged in a recent report that there is a massive opportunity to make increasing use of the process where the EPA can recognise overseas bodies as international regulators and make rapid reassessment where international regulators have already assessed and approved the same or similar substance.

Increased use of recognised international regulators would expedite the process and make it more cost effective for registrants. The cost of generated data in New Zealand is expensive, and inefficient if the same studies have already been undertaken overseas (that satisfy recognised international regulators). If the EPA starts to make more use of this process, it will result in an approach which would then enable faster registrations, with less costs passed on to growers and ensure New Zealand keeps up with our trading partners in terms of access to the latest pest control products.

New Zealand growers are working to progressively lessen the use of agrichemicals and move to products that are more environmentally friendly and sustainable with less impact on the environment.

The sector is front-footing initiatives to reduce the use of chemical sprays through the A Lighter Touch (ALT) programme. This is funding extensive demonstrations with the aim of transitioning from agrichemical pest management to agroecological crop protection.

Horticulture New Zealand holds the contact with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to deliver this programme, which is a partnership between horticulture product groups, the arable, and viticulture sectors. The programme partners are contributing $16 million to the programme, with $11 million coming from MPI.

Crop protection products are vital to horticulture production. For example, without crop protection products, horticulture would lose 75 per cent of the value of its crops. Vegetable growers would incur losses of about 88 per cent of the value of vegetable crops – 80 per cent of vegetables in New Zealand are grown for domestic supply. New Zealanders food security, as well as our economy, is dependent on the EPA working well.

To manage that risk, we need to ensure interpretation of the HSNO Act is not creating a barrier to horticulture’s success, and is enabling, to allow growers access to new tools so they can produce healthy fruit and vegetables for New Zealanders and achieve the Government’s vision of doubling exports.

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