Thursday, 02 May 2024 08:55

Let's continue to innovate

Written by  Liz Shackleton
Animal and Plant Health chief executive Liz Shackleton. Animal and Plant Health chief executive Liz Shackleton.

OPINION: The agricultural sector is facing a crisis, with forecasts for registering innovative animal and crop health products hitting an all-time low.

A decade ago, we were world leaders in pioneering innovation. Now forecasts say it will take five to nine years to bring a new product to market.

With a backlog of new product applications and less than 25% meeting statutory timeframes, the country is losing its competitive edge in a global market during an economic downturn. The consequences are farreaching, affecting our ability to reform, adapt to climate change, increase productivity, meet market expectations, and respond to emerging biosecurity threats.

New Zealand farmers and growers are pioneering and want to embrace innovation, but our country’s regulatory system is falling behind. The painful truth is that these innovative solutions are available in other countries, but many are not yet being registered in New Zealand.

Manufacturers of innovative products are saying they have lost trust and confidence in a system which many have been using for decades. Products already approved and being used overseas face significant challenges and delays to register here. With new products taking up to five years to register, with a 100 day statutory target, and minor product changes taking more than year, with a 10 day target, New Zealand’s market is simply too small for delays of this magnitude, so they will invest and supply elsewhere.

The regulator in charge of assessing the environmental risks for new products, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), differs slightly from its global counterparts. The Ministry for Primary Industries, and sometimes WorkSafe NZ, also provides some assessment functions.

The EPA has challenges in processing new product applications, resulting in a backlog. Less than 25% of applications meet statutory timeframes, compared with 97.8% a decade ago, despite increases in funding.

According to the recent Sapere briefing to the Minister for the Environment on the EPA’s role and performance in assessing hazardous substances, clearing the current backlog will take between two to four years. Since the EPA is legally required to receive new applications, stopping them is not an option.

A focus on reassessing existing substances exacerbates the situation. The EPA is allocating four times more resourcing to reassessing products than to introducing new, environmentally- friendly chemistry into New Zealand. The number of planned reassessments has increased significantly this year. This imbalance significantly impacts sectors within New Zealand’s primary industries, including horticulture, arable farming, and forestry.

The animal health and crop protection industries had a value of $24 billion to New Zealand. A 2019 NZIER report explains that New Zealand’s economy would lose up to $11.4 billion without crop protection products – and that crop production would decrease by 30%. This figure is much higher now.

Animal and Plant Health New Zealand and its members are charting a path forward by offering constructive solutions to government and key stakeholders, drawing from international insights and ideas.

The agricultural sector is critical to our future, but we are a small market, with high investment costs to bring products to our shores. Other OECD countries are using safer, more effective, and less hazardous chemistry, bio products and other technology. We must avoid getting stuck in a bubble that could burst as the world around us moves on.

Without these reforms and leadership, we risk falling further behind in agricultural innovation, jeopardising export opportunities and sustainable practices. We need to shift the dial swiftly to create an environment conducive to innovation. The stakes are high, and the time to act is now.

Liz Shackleton is the chief executive of Animal and Plant Health NZ

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