Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: What to make of the spray

35 Responses

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  • Rich of Observationz,

    Maybe one day scientists will develop a spray that is instantly lethal to neurotic middle class hypochondriacs. If this happens, I think dousing every suburb with an average property price over $400k would be no bad idea.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4209 posts Report Reply

  • daleaway,

    I wonder what people believe is in this " insecticide".

    BTK, the spray ingredient, is one of the few insecticides used by organic farmers - it's a bacteria that needs to be activated by insects' alkaline gut. Humans can't ingest it, our stomach acids don't permit it. Neither can animals.

    So unless the carrying medium was not water+wetting agent, what is it exactly that people are reacting to? (Apart from neurosis and a heightened need to star in their own personal drama?) I'm no being entirely dismissive, I'd really like to know.

    Here's what Canada thinks:
    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pest/pestprod/btk_e.html#skipnav
    and
    http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/pesticide/btkfacts.shtml

    Since Jul 2007 • 178 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    It *did* smell like cat pee, though. I speak as a connoisseur of pet urine.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3582 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I'm in no position to know what to make of the case of Sally Lewis, as reported in the Herald today. She does appear to have suffered very serious health effects, which she believes stem from the day she stood out under the spray, breathed it and let it fall on her skin.

    OK, am I a bad person for saying my bullshit detector started twitching too? I'm hardly able to out geek Maggie Barry on the garden front, but even I can wrap my head around the concept that exposing yourself to any kind of insecticide or herbicide spray drift is a really, really dumb idea no matter how minimal the risk.

    And a pretty basic question Keith Perry should have asked Sally Lewis: Who the hell told her that the spray was "entirely safe" so emphatically that any reasonable person would let it fall on their bare skin? I'm open to correction here, but that's stretching credibility a little too far.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    I wonder what people believe is in this " insecticide"

    I'm afraid that's commercially sensitive.

    The formulation of Foray 48B is highly confidential and the supplier of the product is not willing to have the details disclosed...

    However, MAF and the supplier do recognise there is strong public interest in the formulation of Foray 48B. The full list of ingredients has been made available to relevant regulatory agencies as well as to several other government agencies ... General information on the ingredients has also been communicated widely to the public.

    Looking around, the 'general information' is BTK, growth medium (which, when asked, the govt said as far as they knew was not GE), and a quantity of 'inert' or 'non-toxic' stuff.

    Given all the players now seem to agree people had actual reactions, one wonders.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1091 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    I remember hearing that on the first day of spraying there were quite a number of complaints from people affected by the spray - but it was actually too windy to spray, so the plane had just flown the pattern as a practise run.

    I can't actually find any reference to this now - does anybody else remember this, or can dig out a link ? I'd be interested to know how many complaints they received on this day of no spray, compared with that of the days when they did actually spray.

    Personally, I got "dusted" while cycling, and, apart from an unpleasant taste in the mouth, had no ill effects at all.

    Cheers,
    Brent.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 343 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    PS: ... oh, and I am affected by slight asthma, and have a couple of allergies.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 343 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Bart- it's the flip-side of the placebo effect, isn't it. Anyone who says psychosomatic illness is not real has a limited understanding of what is "real". Illness caused by fear of spray- I can believe in that!

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1353 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Sorry... Brent. Me = klutz.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1353 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Regarding "What's in the spray?"

    One reason that the formulation is "commercially sensitive" is that spray formulations that use Bt are very common and all pretty much exactly the same in effectiveness. So the only way the company can differentiate its product as "better" is to have some secret ingredient, typically something utterly irrelevant to the activity and cheap eg chalk. In short I'd bet that far from the company hiding something dangerous they are hiding the fact that their spray could have been bought at half the price from some other supplier with exactly the same ingredients.

    I don't doubt that some folks actually reacted to something in the spray formulation. Basically humans are diverse enough that if you spray enough people with anything someone will react to it.

    What I will say is that the active insecticide, Bt, is a bacterium. Spray formulations are made by growing cultures of this bacterium in growth medium of some kind and then usually drying the bacterial soup down. This gives a powder made up of bacterial spores and leftover growth media. The growth media should be harmless.

    The bacteria is also harmless as far as anyone can tell. Two parts to that statement:

    First it's been tested very thoroughly and it is the active ingredient in almost every organic pesticide. If you eat organically farmed crops you will be eating Bt. And enough folks have eaten such food without harm to be pretty confident about it's safety. But feel free to start a campaign against organic food if you doubt the safety :).

    The second part is that the bacteria kills insects (only a very narrow range of insects, not bees) because a protein made by the bacteria is broken down in the insect gut to release a smaller protein that binds to specific cells in the insect gut and causes those cells to become leaky and the insect dies. The receptors in those cells that bind the Bt toxin are not present in anything other than insects. In other words Bt toxin is not toxic unless you are an insect.

    That's why the organic farmers love Bt as a spray and that's why it's universally supported.

    My guess as to what folks are reacting to is it's probably some wetting agent (detergent) or something in the growth media used to grow the bacteria. Such growth medias are usually fairly undefined mixtures "Yeast Extract" for example is a typical media additive, similar to dried down Marmite. Marmite is pretty damn safe but I bet if we sprayed Auckland with Marmite someone would react. probably an evil Vegemite eater.

    But it could be more complex and different people could be reacting to different compounds. Or people could react only if they've just been exposed to something else as well. I doubt anyone will ever be able to figure out exactly what the cause of every reaction is.

    However, I think MAF could have done better and I think the media could have done better and I think the protesters could have done better. Hmmm guess they are all probably human then.

    cheers
    Bart

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3108 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    It's Ok

    Brent and Bart are almost exactly the same, starts with a B ends with a T has an R in it - ah close enough.

    Our friends frequently call us by each others names :).

    cheers
    Brent no Bart no....arrggh

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3108 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Illness caused by fear of spray- I can believe in that!

    Absolutely. Heck witchdoctors kill folks using exactly that principle.

    cheers
    Bart (I'm sure I'm me now)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3108 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    I just wish they had used plain H2O and counted the complaints
    There just are some people who love to complain/whine

    And in the interests of fairness/natural justice I have to tell you there were people in the south who thought we should just nuke the whole dam place.........not my opinion just what people said
    Anyway job well done Jim S and Jim A

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 521 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard,

    On other occasions she has testified to the "disgusting cat pee smell"

    So that reveals the secret ingredient in the spray: Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1037 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Andrew,

    there were people in the south who thought we should just nuke the whole dam place.........

    ....And leave nothing alive but cockroaches, real estate salespersons and giant, man-eating, mutant painted apple moths.

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 825 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    The readiness of some of those who became involved in the spray protests to attribute any medical condition, in human or animal, to the spraying is quite staggering.

    I don't. I think it is staggering that any government would consider spraying huge section of the population without telling them what the hell they were spraying them with.

    That is mind numbingly bad.

    Jim Anderton said on National Radio that the reason the ingredients were secret was because there was a patent on the formula. This statement makes Jim and MAF look even more stupid. The whole idea of a patent is that the formulas *do* become public but the owners of the patent still get to control who uses the formula. So strike that as a dumb-arse excuse.

    Bart, thank you for that information it was enlightening. The only comment I would make is that there is usually a big difference in the toxicity of pesticides between the time of application and the time of consumption. Even organic ones. Apart from the length of time the ingredients are active most produce gets washed at the packing plants.

    Folks, the farmers still control this country :-)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1612 posts Report Reply

  • A S,

    ....And leave nothing alive but cockroaches, real estate salespersons and giant, man-eating, mutant painted apple moths.

    So no real change then? :-D

    Wellington • Since Nov 2007 • 228 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    You're quite right Don. there clearly was NOT a patent on the formulation. Patents are public knowledge that is the whole point of a patent. What is was, was a trade secret. Jeez given the number of companies that sell Bt based insecticides you'd think they could have found one that made its formulation public.

    big difference in the toxicity of pesticides between the time of application and the time of consumption

    The term is withholding period. Heck you can find it on any pesticide/fungicide you buy at the garden centre. For Bt the withholding period should be 0 days unless the wetting agent or something else in the formulation is of risk. Seriously you can eat the stuff - heck you have eaten it.

    most produce gets washed at the packing plants.

    Which is a damn shame since it has a much chance of doing harm as good. Water on the surface of produce is terrible for its storage.

    I have some sympathy for MAF. They were in a rush to try and control this pest and were trying hard to do the right thing at the time. They had to deal with the science involved and the commercial issues and the safety issues. And in all that they forgot to deal with the public concern. I think they could have done better but I don't think for a second they were doing anything other than what they believed was the best they could do for NZ.

    cheers
    Bart

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3108 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I don't. I think it is staggering that any government would consider spraying huge section of the population without telling them what the hell they were spraying them with.

    I personally found the whole thing weird, and it made me really glad that I lived at the other end of the country.

    Even if it was entirely benign for humans, used in organic farming etc etc, I'd find having my house, my trees, my vege garden, my dog, and my kids and I sprayed by anything out of a plane really creepy and unpleasant.

    At the very least I'd be looking to take my family on a holiday while it was on, even if it was irrational to do so.

    But obviously we got some good academic papers out of how it all played out psychologically, and we only sprayed on Aucklanders, so that's ok ;)

    Since Nov 2006 • 6145 posts Report Reply

  • Duncan McKenzie,

    There was a positive side effect of the spray programme at my place - bug-free peaches off the tree.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    there were people in the south who thought we should just nuke the whole dam place.........

    ....And leave nothing alive but cockroaches, real estate salespersons and giant, man-eating, mutant painted apple moths.

    And we all know who'd be coaching the All Blacks then, don't we? I giant mutant painted apple moth, that's who.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4285 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    I just wish they had used plain H2O and counted the complaints
    There just are some people who love to complain/whine

    Oh no Jacqui Dean would have had a fit

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4448 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    And in all that they forgot to deal with the public concern. I think they could have done better but I don't think for a second they were doing anything other than what they believed was the best they could do for NZ.

    And don't forget that there's 'public concern' and 'utter hysterics you're never, ever going to be able to reason with'. Not a precise analogy, but it was a lot like the MeNZB vaccine - do I think the MoH could have done a better job of informing parents and addressing reasonable concerns. Sure, you can always do better and pushing and still wonder if some of the 'show and awe' tactics designed to motivate parents didn't end up have some unintended consequences.

    But there was a lot of misinformation, junk science and outright paranoid bugshit (like the MoH pumping kids full of ineffective and dangerous vaccines to line the pockets of BigPharma) out there that was less than helpful.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    Not a precise analogy, but it was a lot like the MeNZB vaccine - do I think the MoH could have done a better job of informing parents

    Actually that is what it was *not* a lot like. As a parent I was far happier with the information and consultation, very well attended meetings and patience shown by the Min of Health. I really struggle to see just what they *could* have done better.

    I was also able to read other peoples' research, see what was peer reviewed, reputable and what was just Sue Kedgley shit.

    The fact is the peoples' concern about the spray came from ignorance which was a position they were forced into by the Government. I think sneering at peoples fears when they are keep in the dark is a pretty weak position.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1612 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    __Not a precise analogy, but it was a lot like the MeNZB vaccine - do I think the MoH could have done a better job of informing parents__

    Actually that is what it was *not* a lot like. As a parent I was far happier with the information and consultation, very well attended meetings and patience shown by the Min of Health. I really struggle to see just what they *could* have done better.

    Actually, I'm with Craig on this one. The MoH played down potential side effects of MeNZB too much, even if they were unlikely. We weren't prepared for Jimmy's reaction, and I had feedback from parents who thought the same: one parent had a 3yo who they had put through all sorts of tests because he barely slept for a week. If the MoH had simply told people that sleeplessness was a fairly rare side-effect of the vaccine, it would have saved a lot of bother.

    The MedSafe data sheet for MeNZB (which I found online and somehow wound up discussing on the radio with Linda Clark) was quite enlightening. I think it wouldn't have hurt to have it more widely distributed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17941 posts Report Reply

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