The government needs to urgently reassess and ban the brain-damaging insecticide chlorpyrifos. NZ children are exposed to high levels of it compared to other countries.
Our petition asked for the urgent reassessment and ban of the insecticide chlorpyrifos.
NZ children have higher levels of chlorpyrifos in their urine than US and other countries. Low level exposure to chlorpyrifos damages children’s brains and neurodevelopment. Chlorpyrifos has been found to meet threshold criteria for a Persistent Organic Pollutant under the Stockholm Convention. Chlorpyrifos has been found in NZ food, waterways and alpine air, and in Antarctica. Chlorpyrifos is banned in at least 39 countries, including EU, UK, Canada. There are safer alternatives.
Our submission describes how chlorpyrifos has many persistent adverse effects on people's health, especially children. A 2022 study shows that New Zealand children are exposed to alarmingly high levels of chlorpyrifos compared to other countries. Very low levels, such as are found in food, can irreversibly harm the pre- and postnatal brain and pubertal development.
A number of recent NZ government surveys have found this insecticide in a wide range of food, including raisins, peanut butter, anything containing wheat, frozen mixed berries, grapes, tomatoes, avocados, pears, mandarins, a range of summer fruit, broccoli, various green vegetables and baby food.
Dietary intake represents the major source of pesticide exposure for infants and children, concludes the authoritative National Research Council report Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children in 1993. This is backed up by a number of intervention studies around the world that have measured children’s urine, usually for organophosphate metabolites or breakdown products, before and after eating organic food over a period of time, and usually the results have been dramatic and immediate. A useful example of this is a very short video about a Swedish family on YouTube: “The Effect of Organic Food”.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded in 2016 that chlorpyrifos in food is unsafe for ALL POPULATIONS. They calculated the highest risk is for children aged 1–2 years old, with exposure levels 14,000% above the safety threshold for food.
At least 39 other countries have banned this pesticide, including the UK, Canada and the 27 countries in the European Union. The UK made it illegal to use chlorpyrifos on any crop in 2016. The US eventually banned its use on food crops in 2021. The United Nations international review committee classified it as a Persistent Organic Pollutant in 2022 because of its persistence, bioaccumulation, potential for long-range environmental transport and adverse effects, particularly on young children at low levels. It is a signal to all countries to no longer use this pesticide.
We also outline how our EPA has not prioritised the reassessment of chlorpyrifos, in spite of well documented evidence of its neurotoxic properties showing persistence and harm, not only in children’s bodies, but also in the NZ environment. Adverse effects have been found in NZ bees, for example. It has also been found in NZ water, soil, sediment, crops, air, and also in the Southern Alps, Antarctica and Arctic.
What can we do? The obvious choice is to buy organic food, and even better, grow your own food. In this way we will expose ourselves and our families less to the inevitable cocktail of chemicals that are present in ‘conventional’ food grown in a system of industrial agriculture. This inevitable cocktail of chemicals may include substances that cause cancer and endocrine disruption, or having an effect on the hormones in the body. No safe level for these effects have ever been scientifically established. By choosing organic food you are also supporting a system that does not pollute the environment. It is well established that organic agriculture helps to mitigate climate change, and is more resilient at times of stress, such as in droughts and floods.
If you want more detail, including references, read the pdf of our full submission.