Kiwifruit industry warns of multi-billion-dollar hit if officials ban controversial chemical

The kiwifruit industry says it's bracing for a multi-billion-dollar hit if officials ban a controversial chemical used to grow the fruit.

The chemical spray hydrogen cyanamide or 'Hi-Cane' is sprayed on vines to ensure they 'fruit' at the same time.

But a 2019 Newshub 'Because it Matters' report revealed concerns about the chemical's health effects, which prompted the Environmental Protection Authority to review its use.

The kiwifruit industry employs 3000 growers and 25,000 workers. It's a massive earner for New Zealand - almost $2b last year. But now there are concerns about the future of a key ingredient to its success.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers (NZKGI) chief executive Nikki Johnson says hydrogen cyanamide is crucial to the industry.

"If we don't have this product then effectively what we're talking about is not having enough fruit."

Last year Newshub brought you the story of Northlanders concerned about the chemical's health effects. They argued it was drifting off orchards making people and animals sick. And research backed up their argument.

"Animal studies have shown that it can cause cancer in animals and that it's possible that can lead to cancer in humans, but that's never been shown," toxicology professor Ian Shaw told Newshub.

After Newshub's reporting last year the Environmental Protection Authority announced it would review its use.

But it's now been revealed the kiwifruit industry has gone to great lengths to stop hydrogen cyanamide from being banned.

It commissioned reports which detail the impact on the industry if growers can't use it.

They show in the first year any ban could cost the industry up to $300 million. Over ten years it could lose the industry up to $2.8 billion. It could also cause mass unemployment right across kiwifruit regions.

"That effect could be quite devastating and it could actually mean they can't grow kiwifruit in their region, or it may mean their yield is significantly impacted," Johnson tells Newshub.

NZKGI cites studies which show if managed properly the controversial spray poses minimal danger to animals and humans.

But you don't have to look far for critics demanding it be banned.

"There's organic growers that don't use it. There's conventional growers right throughout the country that don't use it, they use other softer chemicals. They don't have to use this particular chemical," Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairperson Rex Graham tells Newshub.

The Environmental Protection Authority says no decision on the future of hydrogen cyanamide has been made.

But it says it will listen to the concerns of kiwifruit growers - knowing that not just their livelihoods but the future of the whole industry could be at stake.