Thursday, August 18, 2022

We must get the regulations right

Who am I? John Roche is the chief science adviser at the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Ministry for Primary Industries chief science adviser John Roche says the value of New Zealand’s food exports is built on the credibility of our food safety and biosecurity standards and we undermine that at our peril.

A recent Farmers Weekly article raised issues about the complexity of the regulatory process for approving methane inhibitors, delays and a suggestion that the process appears “to have grown more complicated”.  

I love how quotations can be succinct turns of phrase that capture profound insight. 

The article I refer to reminded of two such pearls of wisdom: the old Chinese Proverb that “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago … the second-best time is now”, and my father’s line that “laws made in haste, make bad laws”.  

The value of New Zealand’s food exports is built on the credibility of our food safety and biosecurity standards. 

We are world leading and we are known for that competency. 

This reputation is underpinned by our regulations and the fact that their development is evidence-based, with appropriate domestic and international consultation. 

We undermine this at our peril. 

The Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicine (ACVM) Act came into effect in 2001, and the impetus for its establishment was to regulate inputs used for the management of plants and animals for reasons outlined above. 

This was well before methane or nitrous oxide inhibitors were even considered ‘a thing’. 

When it was recognised that the ACVM Act did not cover such inhibitors, work began on the best way to overcome this limitation. 

Industry strongly supported the work to amending the legislation and making sure it was done right.  

To ensure it was done right, a two-step approach was designed. 

This involves declaring a list of inhibitor substances to be agricultural compounds using the legal measure as an Order-in-Council, while a more permanent solution will be achieved through a legislative change to the ACVM Act. 

Substances on the list will be subject to the Act and will require registration.  

The process has not become more complicated. 

Instead, for many people interacting with the process, this is simply their first time doing so. 

The regulatory process for these inhibitor substances will be the same as for other agricultural compounds, such as pesticides and veterinary medicines. And it is important to be clear. 

No methane inhibitor (or any other type of inhibitor) has been delayed to market due to the regulatory process because available inhibitors can be used without ACVM registration. 

Crucially, however, the new registration process will give the primary sector and consumers here and abroad genuine confidence in inhibitor products.  Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is complex. 

We’re battling more that 50 million years of evolution to suppress methane. 

This is not easy and the products to do this are new. 

We must ensure no negative impacts on animal welfare, food safety, or product integrity, as well as ensure the efficacy of the inhibitor relative to its claims. 

It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that government would require chemical residues and efficacy data to register a product. 

Farmers, food processors, and our consumers will want this.  

With five million New Zealanders and more than 40 million people overseas depending on our food safety system, not to mention the reputation of more than $40 billion in export revenue, it is vital that we do not cut corners. 

We need to work together to achieve our collective aims: he waka eke noa, we are all in this together.

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