Hard News by Russell Brown


I sneezed when I woke up this morning. My nose ran and my eyes itched.

It might have been seasonal pollen. Or - given that the same thing happened after last week's spray run (we were buzz-bombed at 5.45am) - I may be allergic to Foray 48B, the spray being used in the aerial campaign to eradicate the painted apple moth.

I assume that there will be some people who suffer a more acute response than my hayfever-type symptoms, and the money budgeted (up to $10 million if need be) for a public health component to the spray campaign is therefore welcome.

But you will not see me at the Spray Free Coalition march, and, frankly, I wish these people would stop bombing me with leaflets telling me that me and family are going to get cancer. Frankly, I'm sick of bio-panic.

Firstly, there is no evidence that the active ingredient in the spray - the Bt bacterium - has any significant health impact. It is approved for use in organic farming.

It is, of course, less than ideal that we don't know the exact composition of the commercial spray, which is subject to patent. MAF says
the rest of the spray contains "wheat or corn starch, soy or other ingredients; preservatives; sticking agents; acid regulators and water."

The Greens have an unverified - but possibly accurate - list of ingredients that includes the industrial solvent toluene, which is approved for use in makeup and other products - and is a key ingredient for your friendly local speed lab's business of turning pseudoephedrine into crystal methamphetamine.

Frankly, I think you're risking a greater degree of environmental pollution waiting at traffic lights or hanging out in a smoky bar.

Anyway, the Auckland District Health Board's peer-reviewed study of the health effects of Foray 48B is available in PDF form
and as HTML.

Some people won't believe it, of course. That's what I find the most disturbing element of bio-panic - the willingness (no, enthusiasm) to believe that dozens of health professionals, regulators and officials are conspiring to lie to you and poison you and your family.

And yet: it is public safety campaigns that have helped bolster sensible GM regulation, ensured the best possible filtration of Auckland water from the Waikato pipeline (which was always going to be better than anything that's ever come out of a tap in Dunedin - but that's not as glamorous a cause, is it?) and, of course, helped draw out the public health support component of the current spray campaign. I just wish they knew when to stop.