Dr Meriel Watts: Our food is denatured through chemical use. NZ is lacking political will to address this

Interviewed by

Lisa Er

Dr Meriel Watts: Our food is denatured through chemical use. NZ is lacking political will to address this

“We need to base our farming on biology, not on chemicals”, says Dr Meriel Watts.
 “New Zealand needs to WAKE UP to what is going on in conventional farming in this country. Our food is denatured through chemical use, and New Zealand, compared to the rest of the world, lacks the political will to address this.”

New Zealand needs to face up to the widespread use of chemicals that are applied in agriculture, either topically or coated on seeds, and how the chemical affect our food and therefore our health. There is a toxic plethora of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, along with artificial fertilisers that make chemical companies masses of money, but are not to the benefit of us, the consumers.

One might think that a so called clean green country, like New Zealand, would be keen to show itself as just that, but instead we apply toxic chemical after toxic chemical all over the country.

In one evening meal, that is not organic, you could be consuming as many as 17 different agro - chemicals in small quantities. Research on how they all work together has not been done. New Zealand’s chemical assessments are not being based on science.

The Formal UN Recommended Organisation SAICM (Strategic Approach to International Chemical Management) states that highly hazardous pesticides be phased out and replaced by agro-ecology. (Agro-ecology is known as organics in NZ.) However, although 170 countries are involved and send delegates to the meetings, incredibly New Zealand has not chosen to be involved, and seems unaware of the serious repercussions of chemical use. Meriel states that the heads of the Departments for the Environment, Health and Agriculture (Primary Industries) need to attend to learn, and realise the critical situation that NZ is in.

Where is the powerful influence that keeps the toxic chemicals in use? Here’s an example from the US.

Dow Chemicals has given a million dollars for Donald Trump’s campaign fund. Dow are makers of Chlorpyrifos. This pesticide has been banned by Sri Lanka and Yemen and US scientists have identified it as a major concern, but of course after that donation, the hopes of getting it banned in the US have been dashed.

In New Zealand we are unsure of the influence by companies like Dow. However the pesticide Chlorpyrifos is used here in New Zealand. There is not much political will to ban it, and although home gardeners are not allowed to use it, the government still allows its use on farms, and by commercial gardeners.

Children are especially at risk. Chlorpyrifos is an acute nerve toxin and suspected endocrine disruptor that has been linked to numerous health issues. It has been found in human cord blood and is known to cause foetal damage and neuro-developmental disorders. Most recently, it has been linked to an increased risk of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children.

Chlorpyrifos is found at particularly high levels in children. It is prevalent in fruit and vegetables; also in dairy products, nuts, cottonseed, wheat and wheat-based products such as bread and pasta, rice, maize, chickpeas, fish, muesli, jam, olive oil, pizza, hamburgers, raisins; also soft drinks and drinking water.

HAVE YOU EVEN HEARD OF CHLORPYRIFOS? Before this interview, I hadn’t.

So why does our government lack the political will to put a ban on chemicals like chlorpyrifos, glyphosate / Roundup, 1080, and the bee threat neonicitinoids?

Agriculture is the largest sector of the tradable economy in New Zealand. This means that farmers have a strong voice around decisions made that affect them. They and the large chemical trans-nationals will undoubtedly have influence regarding decisions made, that could affect them. However we the public need to have a voice about what affects us – namely some very toxic chemicals.

NZ’s Government Department NIWA , the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, tested the water of Auckland harbour and were very concerned at the level of glyphosate in the water - Yet the Government is ignoring the aquatic environment.

Our soils are sick from greed-based, irresponsible agricultural practices, pesticides, chemical fertilisers, erosion and mineral depletion, all of which stop or reduce adequate microbial activity in the soil, rendering them sick and/or dead and sterile. Sick soils make for sick plants and sick plants make for sick humans and animals.,” Says the president of the US National Health Federation, Scott Tips.

If the soil is poor, not enough micro-organisms are taken up into the plant. So we are replacing nourishment with chemicals. The answer to growing good strong healthy plants that do not need chemical assistance, lies in the soil.

We cannot put the entire blame on farmers, says Meriel. The whole approach to pesticides has to change, from home gardeners, to household use as well as farm use. We can’t very well demand farmers change without stopping using fly spray, for example. Fly spray is made with synthetic pyrethrum and is carcinogenic.

The level of cancer is soaring around the world and yet we are not informed about agricultural and industrial chemical use, and its effect on human health.

New Zealand is, in Meriel's opinion, between 10 and 20 years behind in understanding the side effects of pesticide use. This is unacceptable.

She challenges which ever government is in power to create a caring state and ensure the health of all people throughout the country. One main way to do this is to walk away from the chemical cocktail that affects us all.

Dr Meriel Watts had a Bachelor of Agricultural Science and a PhD in risk assessment of pesticides and the consequences of its flaws for pesticide policy.

She has been working on behalf of civil society for 27 years on pesticide issues and safer alternatives – including for Greenpeace and the Soil & Health Association. Now she works (since 1993) for Pesticide Action Network (PAN), a global network of about 600 civil society organisations in 90 countries – coordinate PAN Aotearoa NZ, Senior Technical Advisor to PAN Asia Pacific, the regional centre in Malaysia, and represents the global network at UN chemicals conventions, agreements and technical groups.

Meriel has been involved in NZ’s organics sector for about 24 years – including helping to establish and run Organic Farm NZ – a low-cost certification scheme for growers supplying only the domestic market. Together with her partner, she runs a certified organic farm, on Waiheke Island, supplying locals with fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs and olive oil.

Author of 5 books on pesticides, Meriel has contributed to numerous other publications including monographs e.g. on both the glyphosate and chlorpyrifos, act.

Her most recent book = Replacing Chemicals with Biology – Phasing out Highly Hazardous Pesticides with Agro-ecology - is about why we need to phase out chemical pesticides. That successful growing without pesticides is possible and is now being proved globally and what policy changes are needed to get us there.

The websites mentioned in the interview:

Pesticide Action Network of Aotearoa New Zealand.


Replacing Chemicals with Biology: Phasing out Highly Hazardous Pesticides with Agroecology: http://pan-international.org/resources


UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, report on pesticides to UN human Rights Council, A/HRC/34/48: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Food/Pages/Annual.aspx

Also of interest may be:

PAN International List of Highly Hazardous Pesticides: http://pan-international.org/resources

PAN International Consolidated List of Ban Pesticides: http://pan-international.org/resources

PAN International Monograph on Glyphosate: http://pan-international.org/resources


This interview was sponsored by The Awareness Party


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Lisa Er

Lisa Er

Born in the UK Lisa emigrated with her parents to New Zealand at the age of 16. Already politically active Lisa has continued to have a passionate interest in peace, politics, and the philosophy behind what we do.

A primary school teacher for 14 years, Lisa then turned her hand to business and created the well known Lisa's Hummus, which she sold a few years ago. Now Lisa is immersed in creating a better political system via www.theawarenessparty.com