The Director of Biosecurity Vanuatu, Timothy Tumukon has signaled a potential that Vanuatu could lose its market for kava in New Caledonia if its consumers of the product become aware of or react to the dangers that methyl bromide, the chemical used to treat kava before export, posed to their health.
“The health complaints that they are receiving from consumers is a concern and the government of New Caledonia is very concerned also. That is why we started dialogue three or four years ago to see if we meet face to face and discuss these issues.
“It has come to this time for face-to-face meeting.”
This week these discussions are continuing with the visit of a biosecurity official from New Caledonia to find ways to improve the quality of kava exported by Vanuatu to the French territory.
Director Tumukon explained to The Vanuatu Nightly News’ Kizzy Kalsakau of 96 BuzzFM the use of methyl bromide to treat dried kava that is exported to New Caledonia.
“We have been exporting all these years our kava to New Caledonia after the kava is treated with a chemical, methyl bromide is its name, for three hours before the products is exported to New Caledonia.
“Methyl bromide as those who know about chemicals would know is a very dangerous chemical that is used to treat items to kill off any organisms before you export your product,” Director Tumukon said.
Concerns have been raised internationally that using methyl bromide causes damage to the environment especially to the ozone layer and governments are also concerned about its effects through residue from the chemical on products that are consumed by humans.
“In this case, New Caledonia is concerned about the use of methyl bromide on kava that is export for health reasons.
“There are complaints from consumers that there are ill effects of the kava from Vanuatu.
“And of course, for biosecurity reasons we are in discussions to ensure that if we are to review their import protocols, they need to come and have a look at our systems of preparing kava products for export to their country.”
Mr. Tumukon explained to Kizzy Kalsakau that it is this reason that one senior official from New Caledonia is here in Vanuatu this week and they are in discussion and she is visiting facilities and stakeholders to see how “we manage our products from farm to export, how we prepare it at the point of export and how we treat the product”.
The New Caledonia official accompanied by two officers of Biosecurity Vanuatu left Wednesday morning to Santo to also inspect the systems that have been established on Santo because Santo is Vanuatu’s biggest export port.
She wanted to visit the kava activities and export in Luganville also to ensure that discussions on Santo are focused on how Vanuatu manages its product before it is exported.
“The visit is especially to see if we are to do away with treatment of kava using methyl bromide, is it safe for them to import without any treatment?
“Is it safe in the sense that are there going to be no pest and disease attached to the product when it gets to their end without any treatment?”
“So, this is simply an inspection of our export procedures and to see if they are comfortable with it then we have further discussion to seal an agreement to do away with fumigation of kava to New Caledonia,” Tumukon continued.
He added that on the flip side they will also help our exporters in that the treatment/fumugation currently costs them money when they each export every consignment to New Caledonia.
“If after we decide to export without chemical treatment and consumers still complain then we can then look at the varieties of kava and ensure that only noble kava is exported to New Caledonia or any other market we export to.
But having said that, Tumukon countered that: “We have used methyl bromide widely, not only in Vanuatu, but elsewhere in the world where methyl bromide has been used for quarantine purposes to treat products and it is generally safe.
“It does not have any residue on products that are exported for consumption. But it can have some reaction with products that have got a lot of fats on them. That is it can attach/cling itself and does not dissipate or disappear when applied to products that have fatty properties on them,” he explained.