EPA assessment sparks kiwifruit sector debate on the use of hydrogen cyanamide

The Environmental Protection Authority is assessing the future use of hydrogen cyanamide, known commercially as Hi-Cane, a critical agri-chemical for kiwifruit cultivation, New Zealand’s leading horticultural export.

The reassessment, initiated by concerns over the chemical’s suspected carcinogenic properties, is examining its potential human health, environmental, and ecological impacts despite some earlier evidence being retracted by the EPA.

Public hearings are underway, with input from kiwifruit industry representatives, Māori agri-businesses, and WorkSafe.

Zespri, representing a significant portion of the industry with 92 percent of its growers using Hi-Cane, argues against the proposed ban, highlighting the chemical’s importance for bud formation and even fruiting.

The company stresses the substantial scientific evidence indicating low risk, fearing significant economic and operational repercussions for growers and the broader New Zealand economy should a ban be implemented.

Seeka, another major kiwifruit entity, also opposes the ban, emphasizing the detrimental impact on Māori communities and advocating for regulatory measures to mitigate risks rather than an outright prohibition.

Hydrogen cyanamide has been used in New Zealand since 1988.

Primarily it is sprayed on bare kiwifruit vines to help buds form after winter.

It is banned in Europe and in this country can be applied only by trained professionals in commercial settings.

In September 2019, an EPA Decision-making Committee decided that grounds existed to reassess this substance after “significant” new information on hazards and risks emerged in a report from the European Food Safety Authority.

In 2020,  the EPA opened a public call for information about hydrogen cyanamide and in 2021 it said EPA scientists had carried out an assessment of the information available and released a draft proposal for feedback. This included a recommendation for a gradual phase-out of the use of hydrogen cyanamide, leading to a total ban in five years.

The EPA website provides a timeline which gives an overview of the reassessment’s progress.

This says the hearing started this month and will run until 1 March.

The hearing is being held online and in person at Mercury Baypark Stadium, Mount Maunganui.

Sources:  RNZ and the Environmental Protection Authority

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog