Government probes claims NZ exported Agent Orange

By Kevin Taylor

Government officials started looking afresh in November at a claim that Agent Orange ingredients were made here and shipped to the US military, Defence Minister Mark Burton has revealed.

He said the Government wanted to thoroughly investigate the renewed claim about Agent Orange - blamed for health problems suffered by Vietnam War veterans and their children here and overseas, as well as millions of Vietnamese.

The issue was re-ignited after the Sunday News quoted Government minister and New Plymouth MP Harry Duynhoven saying he had information the ingredients of Agent Orange were shipped from Taranaki in the 1960s to the American military base at Subic Bay in the Philippines for the war.

The defoliant is a 50:50 mix of the pesticides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D - both of which were made at the Ivon Watkins Dow (now Dow AgroSciences) plant at Paritutu in New Plymouth.

A 1990 parliamentary select committee inquiry into whether the product was made here found no conclusive evidence to substantiate the claim.

Mr Duynhoven was in Europe yesterday and could not be reached. But the MP has made the claim before - during a parliamentary inquiry into Agent Orange's effects on veterans and their children.

According to the transcript of a December 2003 inquiry sitting, Mr Duynhoven asked retired Army colonel Raymond Seymour if he remembered the name Subic Bay as a transport route by which the chemicals might have come. Colonel Seymour said he did not.

Mr Duynhoven then said: "OK, because a lot of chemical product was shipped from New Plymouth to Subic Bay around that time. It would be interesting to know what became of it."

Dow AgroSciences New Zealand general manager Peter Dryden yesterday repeated the company's long-standing denial that it made Agent Orange here or supplied the ingredients to the US military.

The 1990 inquiry came after Vietnam Veterans Association claims that official statistics and publications showed Agent Orange was made and supplied by New Zealand during the war. However, Customs told the probe there were no longer export records from the era.

Green MP Sue Kedgley, in Vietnam for a parliamentary conference, said the story had made the Vietnamese media yesterday and New Zealand must apologise to the Vietnamese.

National deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said the Government had to make its position clear and an inquiry should not take very long.

Mr Burton said that John Moller, president of the now-defunct association, wrote to Attorney-General Margaret Wilson in October renewing the claim and suggested it would place New Zealand in a difficult legal position because it was a signatory to the Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use or supply of chemical weapons.

Mr Burton said he told officials in early November to investigate and that work was continuing. He would not put a time on when it might be finished.

What they said

* 'It is most likely that components of Agent Orange were manufactured and supplied by Ivon Watkins Dow.' - Vietnam Veterans Association of New Zealand submission.

* 'Ivon Watkins Dow never manufactured Agent Orange nor did it supply any chemicals to the United States Department of Defence.' - Ivon Watkins Dow submission.

* 'Evidence provided ... as to whether Agent Orange was manufactured in New Zealand during the Vietnam War was inconclusive.' - Inquiry finding.

- From the 1990 parliamentary inquiry into whether Agent Orange was made in NZ

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