Time to ban hazardous kiwifruit spray?


Public consultation is now open on an application to reassess the use of hydrogen cyanamide, an active ingredient in sprays commonly used by kiwifruit growers

Hydrogen cyanamide is banned in Europe, and its re-registration is currently under review in the United States. In New Zealand, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is undertaking a reassessment of the substance, which is primarily sprayed on bare kiwifruit orchards to help buds form after winter.

“While we accept that there are economic benefits from hydrogen cyanamide use, new information suggests these are outweighed by the environmental risks and adverse health effects,” says Dr Chris Hill, General Manager of the EPA’s Hazardous Substances group.

“As part of our reassessment of this substance, we’ve carried out an initial assessment of the information now available and produced draft recommendations.

“The EPA is currently proposing a gradual phase-out of the use of hydrogen cyanamide, leading to a total ban in five years. This would allow existing stock to be used up, for growers to get familiar with alternatives, and for the introduction of additional alternatives to New Zealand.

“Our final recommendations to the decision-making committee will take into consideration the information received in this public consultation process. The committee, which makes the ultimate call on this reassessment, also receives the public submissions.”

Hydrogen cyanamide is not for domestic use; it can only be applied by trained professionals in commercial settings. For those who work with the spray, repeated exposure over time is toxic to the reproductive system and thyroid.

“We are proposing that hydrogen cyanamide be reclassified as a suspected carcinogen, with an updated warning that it is corrosive to the skin and eyes,” says Dr Hill.

WorkSafe NZ advice also notes concerns for the health of workers, and the ability of professional users to appropriately manage the risks of hydrogen cyanamide.

“We acknowledge that concerns have existed about this substance for some time. This is the opportunity for all interested parties to have their say,” says Dr Hill.

Submissions are open until 5.00 pm on 26 November 2021.

Get further details and make a submission

Find out about the reassessment process

Hydrogen cyanamide has been used in New Zealand since 1988. There are currently six hydrogen cyanamide products registered: Hi-Cane, Treestart, Hortcare Hi-break, Synergy HC, Gro-Chem HC-50 and Cyan. These products are restricted to commercial use only.

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

Last year, the EPA opened a public call for information about hydrogen cyanamide. Since then, work has been underway to review the responses and prepare the reassessment application.

Reassessments are determined by a Decision-making Committee. The outcome can range from no change to controls (or usage rules), modifications or restrictions to controls, or revoking the approval for a substance altogether.